Toxic Exposures

Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement

Phil Brown. Foreword by Lois Gibbs

Columbia University Press

Toxic Exposures

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Pub Date: June 2007

ISBN: 9780231129480

392 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $45.00£33.00

Pub Date: June 2007

ISBN: 9780231503259

392 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $44.99£33.00

Toxic Exposures

Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement

Phil Brown. Foreword by Lois Gibbs

Columbia University Press

The increase in environmentally induced diseases and the loosening of regulation and safety measures have inspired a massive challenge to established ways of looking at health and the environment. Communities with disease clusters, women facing a growing breast cancer incidence rate, and people of color concerned about the asthma epidemic have become critical of biomedical models that emphasize the role of genetic makeup and individual lifestyle practices. Likewise, scientists have lost patience with their colleagues' and government's failure to adequately address environmental health issues and to safeguard research from corporate manipulation.

Focusing specifically on breast cancer, asthma, and Gulf War-related health conditions-"contested illnesses" that have generated intense debate in the medical and political communities-Phil Brown shows how these concerns have launched an environmental health movement that has revolutionized scientific thinking and policy. Before the last three decades of widespread activism regarding toxic exposures, people had little opportunity to get information. Few sympathetic professionals were available, the scientific knowledge base was weak, government agencies were largely unprepared, laypeople were not considered bearers of useful knowledge, and ordinary people lacked their own resources for discovery and action.

Brown argues that organized social movements are crucial in recognizing and acting to combat environmental diseases. His book draws on environmental and medical sociology, environmental justice, environmental health science, and social movement studies to show how citizen-science alliances have fought to overturn dominant epidemiological paradigms. His probing look at the ways scientific findings are made available to the public and the changing nature of policy offers a new perspective on health and the environment and the relationship among people, knowledge, power, and authority.

Topical, exceptionally well-researched, and grounded in social theory but accessible to nonspecialists, Toxic Exposures will find a broad audience of scholars, policy makers, activists, and scientists.

Kelly Moore, University of Cincinatti

Toxic Exposures is both relevant and illuminating.

Richard Clapp, Boston University School of Public Health

Phil Brown has developed a highly influential body of work on health and social movements, environmental health science, and contested illness. His book will be a landmark in science studies, environmental studies, and medical sociology for years to come.

David Hess, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Environmental activists, wannabe activists, and folks tired of environmental hazards in their communities will find this a worthwhile guide for action.

Library Journal

Toxic Exposures does shed light on the intersection of health research, advocacy and policy-making.

Paul D. Blanc, Nature

Timely and important.

Peder Anker, Science

A guidebook for those wishing to understand the environmental-health movement.

Sandra Steingraber, Times Literary Supplement

Toxic Exposures is one of the most important books I have read in a long time.

David Naguib Pellow, Mobilization

The chapter on breast cancer is reason enough to read this book.

Jill Chapin, Breast Cancer Action Newsletter

[Toxic Exposures] rightfully belongs on the shelf next to other books on contemporary issues in medicine.

Russ Lopez, Journal of the American Medical Association

Not just another addition to environmental justice studies but provides substantial contributions to the foundations of environmental justice research.

Nature and Culture
Foreword by Lois Gibbs

Preface: Toxic Exposures and the Challenge of Environmental Health

List of Abbreviations


1. Citizen-Science Alliances and Health Social Movements: Contested Illnesses and Challenges to the Dominant Epidemiological Paradigm

2. Breast Cancer: A Powerful Movement and a Struggle for Science

3. Asthma, Environmental Factors, and Environmental Justice

4. Gulf War-Related Illnesses and the Hunt for Causation: The "Stress of War" Versus the "Dirty Battlefield"

5. Similarities and Differences Among Asthma, Breast Cancer, and Gulf War Illnesses

6. The New Precautionary Approach: A Public Paradigm in Progress

7. Implications of the Contested Illnesses Perspective

8. Conclusion: The Growing Environmental Health Movement




About the Author

Phil Brown is a professor of sociology and environmental studies at Brown University. He is co-founder and President of the Catskills Institute (a historical preservation society) and author of Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat's Memories of the Great Jewish Resort Area.