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Sandra Steingraber : Raising Awareness for our Children Through “Raising Elijah”


When I first learned her name: “Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D.” biologist, I wondered, “How had I never heard her name and compelling story before?” I feel strongly, “Sandra Steingraber” ought to be a household name. Raised in the Illinois Midwest, Sandra led your typical mid-western life until she got the news: she had cancer as a young college student.

Told by doctors it was her genetics, she was puzzled, for she was adopted. How did her adopted family lineage have a strong line of similar cancers? This was something she dedicated her life to studying, including earning her Ph.D. in biology. Her answers came in learning the impact of our environment; Sandra grew up in a factory town.

She combined her talent and love for writing and became author of the critically acclaimed book, “Living Downstream,” a biologist’s look at cancer which was updated and rereleased in 2010 with current data. Sandra’s argument for cancer prevention is more than convincing; it is an answer for human and environmental health. Instead of fearing the Big “C” word, we have the opportunity to take charge of our lives through the lifestyle choices we make; informing ourselves of cancer causing chemicals present in our food and our surroundings, and by speaking out for healthy environmental policies. Sandra weaves data through true stories demonstrating our health is inextricably tied to the health of the planet and what we do to the planet we are doing to ourselves.

Through her newest book, “Raising Elijah” Sandra has once again provided us, through well-documented case studies, the opportunity to examine our lifestyles choices and our surrounding environments.

However this time, the focus is on children; the youngest members of society making up 40% of the world’s population and how they are impacted by the world we create for them.

Considering myself pretty well-informed on environmental issues, my eyes widened several times reading the book as I learned that the wooden deck off my house is most likely releasing arsenic into my children’s bodies, into the soil leading to the lake along with our pier and those of my neighbors; that pressure treated wood is really another name for “pesticide treated wood” and this wood which was once legally used in certain situations has become commonplace in most U.S. backyards.

Through stories interwoven with data, Sandra’s focus in “Raising Elijah” is that most environmental decisions are based on the needs and size of middle-aged men; whereas, children pound for pound: breathe in more air, take in more food, and are closer to ground of the pesticide laden lawns – succinctly put, children absorb more chemicals. (Children are also more apt to put their hands in their mouth). And we are witnessing the outcome of this through the rise of childhood health related disorders.

Sandra defines a type of helplessness which develops when we become informed without taking action steps as, “Well-informed futility.” We hear debates and statistics on food and environment and think somebody is studying this and taking care of it. Sandra says until we demand more from government agencies, “Parents must become our own regulatory agencies and Departments of Interiors.” EPA research often takes 10 to 20 years; enough time for our children to become adults: the age when Sandra developed cancer. Instead of being overwhelmed into apathy or pretending it doesn’t exist we must acknowledge the elephant standing in the room, speak, and take action.

To me, Sandra and her stories are gifts: golden information for busy parents who do not have the time for months of research. We do, as parents, have several things: power to inform ourselves; purchase power, driving the market through our choices; power through voting and in sharing the information we now know, with others. For as she states in “Raising Elijah”, “As soon as you know, you can’t not know.”

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