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No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action

Phil Brown
Edwin J. Mikkelsen
With a New Foreword by Jonathan Harr
a New Preface by Phil Brown
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    No Safe Place
    Book Description:

    Toxic waste, contaminated water, cancer clusters-these phrases suggest deception and irresponsibility. But more significantly, they are watchwords for a growing struggle between communities, corporations, and government. InNo Safe Place, sociologists, public policy professionals, and activists will learn how residents of Woburn, Massachusetts discovered a childhood leukemia cluster and eventually sued two corporate giants. Their story gives rise to questions important to any concerned citizen: What kind of government regulatory action can control pollution? Just how effective can the recent upsurge of popular participation in science and technology be? Phil Brown, a medical sociologist, and Edwin Mikkelsen, psychiatric consultant to the plaintiffs, look at the Woburn experience in light of similar cases, such as Love Canal, in order to show that toxic waste contamination reveals fundamental flaws in the corporate, governmental, and scientific spheres.The authors strike a humane, constructive note amidst chilling odds, advocating extensive lay involvement based on the Woburn model of civic action. Finally, they propose a safe policy for toxic wastes and governmental/corporate responsibility. Woburn, the authors predict, will become a code word for environmental struggles.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92048-4
    Subjects: Public Health

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Jonathan Harr

    I spent eight and a half years researching and writing my bookA Civil Action, which recounts the saga of the Woburn case. During that time, as I spoke with the parents in Woburn whose children had been stricken with leukemia, and with Jan Schlichtmann, the lawyer who represented the families and who became the central figure in my book, I learned that there was another writer hard at work on the same subject. This was not, I admit, welcome news. Most writers I know are exceedingly, almost insanely, possessive of their subjects. The specter of someone else coming up...

  5. Preface (1997)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Phil Brown
  6. Preface (1990)
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In the mid-1970s residents of Woburn, Massachusetts, began to realize that their children were contracting leukemia at exceedingly high rates. By their own efforts affected families discovered a leukemia cluster, which they attributed to carcinogens leached into their drinking-water supply from industrial waste. Families of the affected persons channeled their outrage into a civil suit against the corporate giants W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods that eventually opened in Boston in March 1986. On July 28, 1986, a federal district court jury found that Grace had negligently dumped chemicals on its property, although it absolved Beatrice Foods.

    In the next...

  9. 1 Town in Turmoil: History and Significance of the Woburn Cluster
    (pp. 7-42)

    Woburn is a town of 37,000 people lying twelve miles north of Boston. Per capita income in this working-class and lower-middle-class community is $12,904; only 21.5 percent of adults are college graduates. In the mid-nineteenth century, Woburn was an important leather-tanning center. At the beginning of the present century it developed a large chemical industry. Among the products of Woburn’s factories were arsenic-based insecticides, textiles, paper, and animal glues. The chemical industry remains, although the town is now dominated by other forms of manufacturing and by commercial firms. Woburn is typical of communities in which chemical contamination is a routine...

  10. 2 The Formation of an Organized Community
    (pp. 43-74)

    Organizing a community contaminated by toxic wastes is extremely difficult and full of contradictions. The victims and their families, already suffering physical and emotional pain, must relive painful memories as they delve into the causes of their trouble. Indeed, the more ammunition they find for their case, the more reasons they have to be angry and afraid. To become activists, citizens must overcome an ingrained reluctance to challenge authority: they must shed their preconceptions about the role and function of government and about democratic participation. They must also develop a new outlook on the nature of scientific inquiry and the...

  11. 3 The Sickness Caused by “Corporate America”: Effects of the Woburn Cluster
    (pp. 75-124)

    Woburn is a highly toxic environment. Corporate contamination of the public water supply, compounded by government inaction, has harmed the entire community as well as the known leukemia victims. The litigant families suffered from illness and death due to leukemia, from other diseases, and from intense psychological turmoil accompanying the illnesses. They are quite aware of their problems, although the community as a whole is less prepared to understand that exposure to contaminated water has harmed the health of the entire town.

    When we asked interviewees why they did not consider moving, in view of the troubles they faced from...

  12. 4 Taking Control: Popular Epidemiology
    (pp. 125-163)

    The public’s knowledge of the Woburn problem stems solely from the residents’ actions in discovering the leukemia cluster and pursuing the subsequent investigations. In researching this book, we read countless articles in newspapers, popular magazines, scientific journals, and health publications and followed television and radio coverage of the Woburn events. Uniformly, reporters and commentators view the Woburn citizens as the most powerful instance to date of a lay epidemiological approach to toxic wastes and disease. Although one of us (Phil Brown) some time ago coined the term “popular epidemiology” to describe Love Canal residents’ organizing efforts, Woburn actually furnishes the...

  13. 5 Making It Safe: Securing Future Health
    (pp. 164-200)

    As we have seen, residents of Woburn and other toxic waste sites have become practitioners of popular epidemiology, working hard and sometimes obtaining toxic waste remedies and justice. But the burden of fighting against toxic waste should not be borne by the affected communities alone. We must mount a national and international effort to combat existing contamination and to prevent future environmental degradation. Since the environmental politics of toxic waste contamination concerns the whole society, all sectors of society must take responsibility for it. How can we make the environment as safe as possible?

    First we must step up public...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 201-224)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-261)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-262)