MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
Having Faith: An Ecologists Journey to Motherhood
Sandra Steingraber
352pp, $26.00

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Sandra Steingraber has with "Having Faith, An Ecologists Journey to Motherhood" once again, created a work of great importance in our understanding of the role man made pollutants have on human health. In her first book "Living Downstream" she juxtaposed her battle with cancer against the accumulating evidence of the role persistent pollutants play in the etiology of that disease. "Having Faith" is the next stage in her work as a scientist, her life as a cancer survivor, her experience as a mother and her skill as one of those rare individuals that can illuminate science with the voice of a poet.

Nearly a decade ago I had the honor of being one of the organizers of a conference on endocrine disruptors at which Sandra spoke. Even at that time, while still working on Living Downstream, she had recognized the ultimate environmental contamination, that of the "first environment, the contamination of the womb". Through her experience during pregnancy, birth and the first flush of motherhood she shows us in the most intimate of terms the enormity of the issue we all face and it's effects on this and future generations. But this is not just another of those dry scientific retellings of the horror of the toxic soup in which we live. While "Having Faith" does detail the scientific basis for the effects of environmental pollutants on human health and development, it is essentially one of the most beautiful love stories I have read in a long time.

Moving seamlessly from clear and easily understood descriptions of the stages of embryonic development, how pollutants cross the placenta, the mechanisms of chemical neurotoxins on the fetal brain, scientific research on toxicity and human health and development, to what is one of the most miraculous of human experiences, that of birthing a new life, Steingraber weaves the cherished details of her personal experience with the political and environmental realities we all face. For anyone who loves any child, is thinking about having, or has a child, works with children or is part of the public health community, this beautifully written book is a must read. A powerful call to action, "Having Faith" should also be required reading for all members of state and federal legislatures, before they take their oath of office, as a tool to counter balance the powerful lobbies of the chemical industry.

Building her scientific case as she ripens to full term, her discussion of the benefits of breastfeeding, despite the fact that many of the most potent chemicals concentrate in mother's milk, is both clear and emotionally impacting. Finally her call to full utilization of the precautionary principle gives us a tool upon which to base future decisions about new chemical and technological introductions (genetically modified organisms also come to mind). She points out that the precautionary principle has been circulating in scientific circles since the 1970's when it was introduced into West German Law and was given worldwide attention at the 1992 Earth Summit.

As defined by Dr. Steingraber "The principle itself has been around a long time, probably as long as human mothers, for at its core it simply means that we should err on the side of caution whenever a situation seems potentially dangerous. It's the credo that prompts us to buckle seat belts, get out of the pool when lightning flashes and throw away mysterious leftovers discovered in the back of the refrigerator. It's why we keep plastic bags and books of matches away from young children. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is one of the principles more recognizable incarnations."

As the title implies the book is about so much more than either the experience of bringing new life into the world or the effects of chemicals on those new lives, it is about having faith. Faith, that we, as a society, will find the wisdom to put the precautionary principle into action and the strength to put love for our children before profit and pollution. By having faith ourselves, and working together, we can create a world in which future generations will no longer experience the violence of contamination even before their birth. Thanks Sandra, for showing us, by example, a model of that faith.


-- Robin Seydel

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