I am planning to finish chapter 4 of my dissertation tonight or tomorrow. In the final section, I end with Sandra Steingraber (1997/2007). If you have not read Living Downstream (even if you saw the documentary), I highly recommend reading it. A biological researcher, Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 20. She has spent her adult life as an ecological activist and educator focused on the very-underplayed connection between environmental factors (the mass production and dissemination of petrochemicals and chlorine compounds after WW II) and rising cancer rates globally (and I do not mean "lifestyle choices," like smoking, alcohol and obesity that I would argue are not so much "choices" anyway as they are the results of exploitative corporate practices and class oppression) Also, if you ever have had reason to look at patient education materials from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, pamphlets on cancer in doctor's offices, read carefully what it is stresses are risks and what these publications say about exposure to chemical pollutants in the environment. I offer this fairly long quote from her as food for thought.
"We know that toxic sites are disproportionately located in poor and minority communities. We know also that disparities in cancer rates exist between U.S. whites and U.S. blacks that cannot be explained by genetic differences. (To its credit, the American Cancer Society points this out.) Moreover, people are not uniformly vulnerable to the effects of environmental carcinogens. Among those who may be affected more profoundly are infants, whose cellular signaling pathways are still under construction; adolescents, whose bodies are being resculpted by sex hormones; and the elderly, whose detoxifying mechanisms are less efficient. Individuals with genetic predispositions and those with significant prior exposures may also suffer more damage. Cancer may be a lottery, but we do not each of us hold equal chances of winning. When carcinogens are deliberately or accidentally introduced into the environment, some number of vulnerable persons are consigned to death. The impossibility of tabulating an exact body count does not alter this fact. From a human rights standpoint, these deaths must be made visible. Here is one way of doing that. . . . Suppose we assume for the sake of argument that the [now outdated] 1981 estimate concerning the proportion of cancer deaths due to environmental exposures is absolutely accurate. That estimate, put forth by those who seek to dismiss environmental concerns, remember, is 6 percent. (2 for pollution plus 4 for occupational exposures.) Six percent, as the American Cancer Society itself points out, means 33,600 people in the United States expire each year from cancers caused by involuntary exposures to toxic chemicals. All by itself, that would make environmentally caused cancer the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States.[*] 33,600 is greater than the total annual number of homicides in the United States—a figure that is considered a matter of national shame. It exceeds the annual number of suicides—a figure so tragic that phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines rightly appear on the covers of telephone books. 33,600 is far more than the number of women who die each year from hereditary breast cancer—an issue that launched multi-million-dollar research initiatives. It is more than ten times the number of non-smokers estimated to die each year of lung cancer caused by exposure to secondhand smoke—a problem so serious it warranted sweeping changes in laws governing air quality in public spaces. None of these 33,600 Americans will die quick, painless deaths. They will be amputated, irradiated, and dosed with chemotherapy. They will expire privately in hospitals and hospices and be buried quietly, at a rate of ninety-two funerals a day. Some of them will be children. Photographs of their dead bodies will not appear in newspapers. We will not know who most of them are. Their anonymity, however, does not moderate this violence. In 2007, 834,499,071 pounds of known or suspected carcinogens were released into our air, water, and soil by reporting industries. In this light, the 33,600 deaths can be seen as homicides. . . . .
Let's declare the production of carcinogens and suspected carcinogens is the result of outmoded technologies and invest in green chemistry. Let’s aim for zero waste, eliminating the need to bury garbage over drinking water or light it on fire inside incinerators. Let’s invest in diversified, local, organic farming. This would yield five immediate benefits: decreased amounts of carcinogenic diesel exhaust created from the long-distance transport of food; decreased pesticide residues in our diets; decreased pesticides in our drinking water; decreased dependency on petroleum-based fertilizers, and an increase in access to healthy foods to fight obesity. Let’s invest in green energy sources and so reduce the air’s load of ultrafine particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and aromatic amines. Let’s end the fifty-year-era of petrochemicals and coal. Then let’s see what happens to the cancer rates. And what happens to the cost of health care."
*This figure is tragically low. It is from the first edition of Living Downstream, but the argument remains valid. In 2017, cancer is the SECOND leading cause of death in the U.S. with over 500,000 deaths. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/data/types.htm
Steingraber, Sandra. Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (p. 280-282). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.