Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. spoke on Tuesday in Hubbell Auditorium to an audience of community members, professors and students about how chemical pollutants have contaminated our way of life. She asserts that government regulations on chemicals such as DDT are not sufficient for public health because they do not protect the very young and very old people in our population.

Steingraber has written several books including “Living Downstream: An Ecologist looks at Cancer and the Environment” and “Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood,” in which she takes a highly personal approach to the impact of her surroundings on her health.

Her talk was co-sponsored by the Environmental Health Sciences Center and the Sustainability Roundtable. Both groups hope to improve and educate the campus and surrounding community about the environment and impacts on human health.

Steingraber highlighted some of the University’s research laboratories, saying that she obtains many “jigsaw pieces” regarding environmental health impact from the research laboratories here on campus.

When asked what the University as an organization can do to be more environmentally friendly, Steingraber enumerated the works of some of our peer institutions. She mentioned Ithaca College’s converting to organic food in the cafeteria, the banning of pesticides on University soccer fields and a new business management building that runs entirely on Green Energy.

Steingraber encouraged the University to find ways that fit with its infrastructure in which to improve environmental quality. Carleton College has installed a wind turbine that powers half the college’s electricity, enough for 600 homes.

Steingraber addressed a local problem of trichloroethyl (TCE) in our drinking water that is possibly linked to neural defects in early stages of fetal development. However, Steingraber cautioned that this research is in preliminary stages, but nevertheless, there is “provocative data” that suggests serious harm to fetuses exposed to these chemicals in the womb.

Steingraber’s first book, “Living Downstream,” brought significant media attention to her cause and will soon be picturised in a documentary film. “Living Downstream” is a memoir of Steingraber’s battle with bladder cancer during her sophomore and junior years of college. In the book, she hopes to “bridge the gap” between the knowledge that biologists have and what patients are told about the causes of their conditions.

Her next book, “Having Faith,” is another memoir about her pregnancy and the implications of chemical pollutants on her growing child. Every process from fertilization to delivery has untold risks for the baby’s healthy growth and development, and even relatively small concentrations of chemicals can perform a great deal of damage at different points of development. She noted with wonder that any thyroid problems she had could inhibit the neural functioning of her baby and how heavy metals like lead and mercury could stunt its growth.

Following Steingraber’s provocative talk, the audience asked equally engaging questions ranging from University involvement to where we could learn more of the merits of breast-feeding and organic foods for infants.

Steingraber suggested several Web sites that provide awareness about environmental issues: visit to find information about how to fight legislatively to get more environmental chemical regulations; to enter your zip code for valuable information about specific pollutants in your area as indicated by the Environmental Protection Agency; to name a disease and they’ll name an environmental pollutant that causes that disease.

The Sustainability Roundtable and Environmental Health Science Center at the Medical Center sponsored Steingraber’s lecture to improve education and public awareness about environmental impact. Steingraber is hoping to continue her research in the ecological importance of health during puberty and into continued senescence.

Sahay is a member of the class of 2010.

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