IN­EVITABLY TOXIC

His­tor­i­cal Per­spec­tives on Con­tam­i­na­tion, Ex­po­sure, and Ex­per­tise

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Popular Science -

Brinda Sarathy (Ed­i­tor), Vivien Hamil­ton (Ed­i­tor), Janet Farrell Brodie (Ed­i­tor), Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh Press (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $34.95 (280pp), 978-0-8229-4531-4

Most of the ten es­says col­lected in In­evitably Toxic are based on pa­pers pre­sented at Clare­mont Col­lege’s “Con­tested Ex­per­tise, Toxic En­vi­ron­ments” work­shop in fall 2015. Read­ing them is like at­tend­ing an aca­demic con­fer­ence and ab­sorb­ing the lat­est in­sid­ers’ in­sights into ra­di­a­tion events and in­dus­trial tox­ins.

What’s so per­ni­cious about these en­vi­ron­men­tal threats is their hid­den na­ture: “In al­most all of our cases,” ed­i­tors Brinda Sarathy, Vivien Hamil­ton, and Janet Farrell Brodie write in their in­tro­duc­tion, “the tox­i­c­ity re­mains in­vis­i­ble, with health ef­fects some­times man­i­fest­ing im­me­di­ately, and some­times af­ter long pe­ri­ods of chronic ex­po­sure.”

The au­thors con­sider the risks and con­tain­ment strate­gies for sit­u­a­tions rang­ing from the West Texas petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­try to an Arc­tic “dump­cano” in Nu­navut ter­ri­tory. His­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive is gained by in­ves­ti­gat­ing the evolv­ing X-ray pro­tec­tion guide­lines in Amer­i­can hos­pi­tals and ra­di­a­tion sick­ness among atomic bomb sur­vivors in Ja­pan.

Four of the chap­ters are spe­cific to Cal­i­for­nia. From neigh­bor­hood oil drilling in Los An­ge­les to the de­con­tam­i­na­tion of ra­dioac­tive war­ships at a navy lab in San Fran­cisco, the stud­ies present the on­go­ing chal­lenges posed by tox­i­c­ity, and the range of com­mu­nity re­sponses.

Es­says vary in terms of their ap­peal to a gen­eral au­di­ence. One piece on wa­ter pol­lu­tion con­trol in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 1947–55 feels rather niche, whereas the study of her­bi­cide use against Dou­glas Fir tus­sock moth cater­pil­lars in the Pa­cific North­west is writ­ten in a more en­gag­ing style than many of the rest.

The ed­i­tors be­lieve that the ded­i­cated field­work and in­ten­sive re­search rep­re­sented by these case stud­ies will en­able the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity to be bet­ter pre­pared for any fu­ture threats: “We might move ahead with greater cau­tion, an­tic­i­pat­ing and plan­ning for toxic sub­stances rather than re­act­ing to an en­vi­ron­men­tal or health cri­sis al­ready un­der­way.”

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