Sandra Steingraber is a mother, biologist, ecologist, science writer, poet, and cancer survivor. She is aware that it’s easier to dismiss her as hysterical — overly concerned with the potential for environmental contaminants to make us deathly ill — than it is to take action. Some people might call her an alarmist, but Steingraber knows what the science shows — and she’s been through the wringer since her diagnosis 35 years ago, when she was just 20. Bladder cancer, known as a quintessential environmental cancer, recurs in 70 percent of patients, sometimes multiple times, which means constant medical monitoring and a lifetime medical bill that Steingraber will never be able to fully pay off. She doesn’t want future generations to live like this while people and corporations reap profits today.
“I have an obligation to protect my children from harm and plan for their future,” Steingraber told Pasatiempo. “It seems to me that those are the two basic responsibilities of being a parent. I can’t do that if there are neurotoxicants, asthma-inducing agents, and pesticides linked to early puberty circulating in the environment. Children’s bodies are made up of the rearranged molecules of the air, food, and water [they take in]. That’s how they build their bodies, and those building blocks are contaminated. It’s wrong to kill people by exposing them to toxic chemicals that can add to their burden of cancer. I can’t afford to be a good German about this.”