By Amanda Gillooly
GASP communications manager
A book published today by Pittsburgh-based journalist Kristina Marusic, “The New War On Cancer: The Unlikely Heroes Revolutionizing Prevention,” is one that will move you to act.
It talks about the crazy number of chemicals invented since the early 20th Century - about 300,000 - and how they’ve fed our global cancer crisis.
It talks about how rates of chemical exposure are so much higher for Black and Brown Americans, another sad example of environmental injustice.
It talks about burgeoning rates of childhood cancer and the increasing amounts of forever chemicals seeping into our everyday lives via home and personal products and packaging that might not be on folks’ health radar.
And it also talks about just how ineffective The War on Cancer has been - interspersing terrifying statistics about carcinogenic chemicals and how things got *this* bad with personal vignettes about the folks working to shift the paradigm of prevention.
As Marusic explains:
“Our choices as individual consumers do matter when it comes to our health, but we can’t solve these problems by changing those behaviors alone. We have to change our regulations to protect everyone from harmful chemicals, minimize the influence of large corporations over policymakers, and force corporations to pay for the true cost of their operations instead of continuing to externalize them at the expense of our planet and our health.”
Throughout the books, she documents the ways in which ordinary Americans are doing extraordinary cancer-prevention work through science, politics, advocacy, and more. One of the chapters renders a portrait of Mon Valley resident (and GASP smoke-reading volunteer) Melanie Meade and the industrial air pollution that she says has sickened generations of her family and neighbors. It talks about Pittsburgh’s industrial past, the Mon Valley’s enduring air quality problems, and the ways in which she’s working to protect her community.
While (as an admitted hypochondriac) the book truly scared the hell out of me, it also opened my eyes to a whole world of chemical exposure that I had certainly heard about but hadn’t spent much time exploring. Reading that everything from the mascara I swipe on to the household cleaning products I use to banish dust could put me at greater risk for certain cancers inspired me - and I hope others - to take more seriously the question, “Now that I know better, how do I do better?”
On this point, Marusic delivers: Her powerful epilogue not only explores what she calls “the myth of personal responsibility” but also provides readers with a practical list of ways they can take action to demand change - from donating time and money to advocacy organizations to supporting campaign finance reform.
I recommend this book to my friends in air quality advocacy, those whose lives have been touched by a cancer diagnosis, and everyone in between. Because paradigm shifts are hard. And it’s gonna take sustained efforts from all of us to make it happen.
“A New War on Cancer: The Unlikely Heroes Revolutionizing Prevention” is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and bookshop.org.