Toxic Exposures

Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement

PHIL BROWN
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 392
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/brow12948
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  • Book Info
    Toxic Exposures
    Book Description:

    The increase in environmentally induced diseases and the loosening of regulation and safety measures have inspired a massive challenge to established ways of looking at health and the environment. Communities with disease clusters, women facing a growing breast cancer incidence rate, and people of color concerned about the asthma epidemic have become critical of biomedical models that emphasize the role of genetic makeup and individual lifestyle practices. Likewise, scientists have lost patience with their colleagues' and government's failure to adequately address environmental health issues and to safeguard research from corporate manipulation.

    Focusing specifically on breast cancer, asthma, and Gulf War-related health conditions-"contested illnesses" that have generated intense debate in the medical and political communities-Phil Brown shows how these concerns have launched an environmental health movement that has revolutionized scientific thinking and policy. Before the last three decades of widespread activism regarding toxic exposures, people had little opportunity to get information. Few sympathetic professionals were available, the scientific knowledge base was weak, government agencies were largely unprepared, laypeople were not considered bearers of useful knowledge, and ordinary people lacked their own resources for discovery and action.

    Brown argues that organized social movements are crucial in recognizing and acting to combat environmental diseases. His book draws on environmental and medical sociology, environmental justice, environmental health science, and social movement studies to show how citizen-science alliances have fought to overturn dominant epidemiological paradigms. His probing look at the ways scientific findings are made available to the public and the changing nature of policy offers a new perspective on health and the environment and the relationship among people, knowledge, power, and authority.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50325-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    LOIS GIBBS

    Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement is a modern version of the John Snow story. This book describes the struggle of families victimized by chemical exposures and their partners in science to attain public recognition of the connection between disease and environmental exposures. From this effort was born a new movement that crosses scientific, political, disease-related, health, and cultural boundaries.

    Like John Snow, the scientist in 1890s London who identified contamination in the public drinking water well as the source of cholera that was raging through the city, today’s environmental health scientists face many difficult challenges. Snow...

  4. PREFACE: TOXIC EXPOSURES AND THE CHALLENGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxv-xxxii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxxiii-xxxvi)
  7. 1 CITIZEN-SCIENCE ALLIANCES AND HEALTH SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: CONTESTED ILLNESSES AND CHALLENGES TO THE DOMINANT EPIDEMIOLOGICAL PARADIGM
    (pp. 1-42)

    Many diseases and conditions involve considerable dispute. Sometimes that dispute centers on whether medicine, science, government, and business believe the disease exists. At other times, there is disagreement over the way to treat the disease and whether people have equal access to treatment. In other cases, the conflict concerns how to study the cause or exacerbation of the disease or both. When we turn to the intersection of health and the environment, we find numerous contested illnesses that involve scientific disputes and extensive public debates over environmental causes. These environmental health problems are among society’s most disputed health issues.

    What...

  8. 2 BREAST CANCER: A POWERFUL MOVEMENT AND A STRUGGLE FOR SCIENCE
    (pp. 43-99)

    In this chapter, I show how the movement formed by women with breast cancer, their friends, and families has become a major force in American society and in particular has transformed many facets of treatment, patients’ rights, social and cultural sensitivities, and research directions. I examine the EBCM that has grown out of the larger breast cancer movement and other health social movements, how it has focused on potential environmental causes, and how it has changed how breast cancer is researched and publicly perceived. This chapter covers the scientific controversy over environmental factors and breast cancer and goes into detail...

  9. 3 ASTHMA, ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS, AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
    (pp. 100-138)

    In this chapter, I show how laypeople, scientists, government, and community activist groups have shaped the discovery and treatment of the asthma epidemic. I discuss the larger debate among scientists, government regulators, and corporate interests concerning the link between air pollution and the exacerbation of asthma, and I examine the ways in which asthma activists, in particular those involved in the environmental justice movement, have used the framework of the environmental causation of asthma to address the underlying structural inequalities. Environmental justice groups have played an especially prominent role in their framing of the asthma epidemic as an issue of...

  10. 4 GULF WAR-RELATED ILLNESSES AND THE HUNT FOR CAUSATION: THE “STRESS OF WAR” VERSUS THE “DIRTY BATTLEFIELD”
    (pp. 139-179)

    In this chapter, I show how GWRIs are a different type of contested illness from breast cancer and asthma. I begin by examining the lay discovery of GWRIs by veterans returning from the Persian Gulf and the formation of a collective illness experience by veterans seeking explanations for their conditions. I discuss the scientific controversy and scientific complexity surrounding the existence of a unique Gulf War Syndrome by tracing the government and scientific research. This chapter covers the many obstacles faced by veterans who were forced to challenge a DEP that did not adequately address their needs: (1) missing information,...

  11. 5 SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES AMONG ASTHMA, BREAST CANCER, AND GULF WAR ILLNESSES
    (pp. 180-201)

    I chose asthma, breast cancer, and Gulf War illnesses because I knew they differed in significant ways in terms of the science base, as evidenced in both biomedical acceptance of the disease or condition and its potential environmental causation. I knew that the strength of social movements across these diseases and conditions differed, and I was aware of the differences in government regulatory practices and other policies. Each of these diseases and conditions (hereafter it makes sense to speak of “diseases” for simplicity) is interesting in its own way, and I believe each of the prior chapters on asthma, breast...

  12. 6 THE NEW PRECAUTIONARY APPROACH: A PUBLIC PARADIGM IN PROGRESS
    (pp. 202-227)

    Sandra Steingraber’s book Living Downstream takes its title from the oft-used metaphor about preventive health. Villagers living along a river notice people floating downstream and regularly pull them out, developing new rescue techniques as time goes by. But no one thinks to look upstream to see why the people are in the river in the first place. As a society, we cannot pinpoint the exact location upstream where the toxic threats to public health and the environment originate because many of the suspected hazards are ubiquitous, so we have to address these hazards farther upstream until we are able to...

  13. 7 IMPLICATIONS OF THE CONTESTED ILLNESSES PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 228-271)

    The contested illnesses perspective goes beyond traditional notions of lay involvement to argue that the role of organized social movements and the organizations in them is crucial for recognizing and acting on diseases and conditions of known or potential environmental causation. This perspective places much emphasis on both political-economic and ideological factors as determinants of the contestation around these diseases and conditions. By viewing this contestation through the lens of the DEP, my perspective focuses on the structure and alterations of public understanding, scientific knowledge, and public policy as acted on in the spheres of government, science, and public life....

  14. 8 CONCLUSION: THE GROWING ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT
    (pp. 272-280)

    I began this book with a personal recounting of how I arrived at my perspective on health and the environment and how and why I do the kind of work I do. It seems fitting to end in a largely personal vein. In chapter 7, I wrote about the implications of my contested illnesses perspective, so there is no need to repeat those points. Here I combine my personal reflections with a few notions about future directions for the new environmental health movement.

    In truth, whenever people choose to do certain work, especially of a professional nature, they take into...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 281-310)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 311-338)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 339-356)