Sandra Steingraber Living Downstream for Earth Week

I attended the Caltech screening of Sandra Steingraber's biographical film, Living Downstream last Thursday night. Shown as part of Caltech's Earth Week activities, The film chronicles Dr. Steingraber's 30-year battle with cancer and her concurent fight to eradicate the production of carcinogenic pollutants from American industry.

First, I applaud the university's Net Impact group for putting together another educational event, keeping the community aware of important issues that we often overlook in our busy lives. Often, we treat these issues with apathy or inaction until some of us are suddenly, personally, and sometimes devastatingly affected.

LA is no stranger to pollution. I did not experience the air pollution afflicting the city during the 1970s, but I understand that LA was the poster child for air pollution, where dark brown smog clouds would choke citizens daily. Though the air is much cleaner today due to stricter California clean air codes, the smog still exists. And those are only the pollutants we can see.

Deer in San Gabriel Valley is a Sign of a Healthy Ecosystem
Deer in San Gabriel Valley is a Sign of a Healthy Ecosystem

There is no doubt that our environment is being sacrificed in the name of progress. I agree with Dr. Steingraber's assertion that pollution issues are complex, and that it is impossible to scientifically prove the causal relationship between the pollutants produced by an industrial plant and the onset of cancer of a specific person with a house in the nearby vicinity. However, there is no doubt that many chemicals that we are inadvertently exposed to on a daily basis are very harmful to us.

Her point is: if we know it, we should do something about it. Dr. Steingraber's goal as an activist is to motivate, following in the steps of pioneering environmental activist Rachel Carson. Dr. Steingraber herself is shocked that many academic scholars produce research papers with valuable statistics and information regarding the effects of harmful industrial pollutants on cancer rates; yet, once their research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, they seem to divest themselves of results which should logically drive them to be activists like herself. Every data point is someone's life. If harmful pollutants are identified, industry should look for ways to eradicate them from their processes.

A discussion followed the screening. A question was asked whether the water of the San Gabriel Valley, the home of Caltech, was save to drink. A Net Impact representative with knowlege of many Caltech environmental concerns replied that the aquifers of the LA basin have been so polluted by industry over the years that most of LA's drinking water actually comes from diversions from the Colorado River. Almost no water from local wells is safe to drink. From the EPA website, you can see that the entire east San Gabriel Valley's water table is a federally mandated Superfund Site that is undergoing a long cleanup process.

Readers and friends, if we have the opportunity to make a small change for the good of our environment, then let's do it. Vote for bills that clearly support cleaner air and water. If we can choose to eat more organic foods, let's do it. Support activists like Dr. Steingraber and her cause. The political climate is charged about every topic these days, and this blog post is not meant to take either side. When I say "let's do it," I mean do it for yourselves, for your families, for Southern California. Let's do our part to eradiate a terrible disease, continue to make our state the leader in eco-friendly ideas, and be the cleanest state to live in.

Happy Earth Day 2012!

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