Dr. Sandra Steingraber Presents McKinley Lecture at Mount Union College
February 19, 2003
Dr. Sandra Steingraber, advocate of community activism concerning human health and a toxin free world, cancer survivor, author, and biology professor, presented the William McKinley Visiting Scholar lecture at Mount Union College on Tuesday, February 18.
Steingraber shared a portion of a chapter from her book, "Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and Environment." The book details her own experience with bladder cancer, and how research has shown that cancer often has a correlation to toxins in our environment.
Earlier that day, in a morning convocation, Steingraber detailed the beginning of her interest into environmental activism in the United States. While in graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Steingraber had the opportunity to travel to the Sudan and along the Ethiopian border and interview refugees about the effects of warfare on the environment. While interviewing a farmer about the conditions of the Nile River, which was now polluted and unfishable, the farmer asked Steingraber about the rivers in her country. She said that she grew up along the Illinois River, which was also polluted. In what she now describes as a "life-changing experience," she said that he asked why she had traveled so far to save his river rather than saving her own river at home.
In the evening lecture, Steingraber discussed bladder cancer, which she was diagnosed with between her sophomore and junior years in college. Bladder cancer is similar to breast cancer, as it can lay dormant and reappear later.
Steingraber discussed cancer registries, which help to measure instances of cancer in our population. Each state takes a tally of cancer cases on the state level, and then reports these to the National Cancer Institute. Steingraber gave statistics of the different types of cancer on the rise, like pediatric, brain, and testicular cancer, which affects men from ages 19-40, but is a highly curable disease. Disturbing issues were raised concerning the link between cancer and the environment. Steingraber noted that bladder, colon, and breast cancer are more prevalent in areas where we practice heavy industry.
"There are fifty different cancer causing agents in the average person's fat, urine, and blood," said Steingraber. "These agents come from our every day exposure to items like lawn chemicals, dry cleaning fumes, and other carcinogens."
Since we are all citizens of this world, Steingraber believes that we all should be concerned about the toxins in our environment. "I think we all should become carcinogen abolitionists," she said. One suggestion she gave was to encourage organic farming.
Steingraber is also the author of "Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood," which deals with her own pregnancy with her daughter, Faith, and fetal toxicology; "Post-Diagnosis," a volume of poetry; and co-author of "The Spoils of Famine," a book on ecology and human rights in Africa. Currently, she is a member of the faculty at Cornell University.
The William McKinley Visiting Scholar Program was made possible through an initial grant made jointly to Malone College, Mount Union College, and Walsh University by the First Educational and Charitable Trust, organized in 1967 with a grant from the Timken Foundation, Canton.