Toxic Bodies


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Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES

Nancy Langston

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In 1941 the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of diethylstilbestrol (DES), the first synthetic chemical to be marketed as an estrogen and one of the first to be identified as a hormone disruptor—a chemical that mimics hormones. Although researchers knew that DES caused cancer and disrupted sexual development, doctors prescribed it for millions of women, initially for menopause and then for miscarriage, while farmers gave cattle the hormone to promote rapid weight gain. Its residues, and those of other chemicals, in the American food supply are changing the internal ecosystems of human, livestock, and wildlife bodies in increasingly troubling ways.

In this gripping exploration, Nancy Langston shows how these chemicals have penetrated into every aspect of our bodies and ecosystems, yet the U.S. government has largely failed to regulate them and has skillfully manipulated scientific uncertainty to delay regulation. Personally affected by endocrine disruptors, Langston argues that the FDA needs to institute proper regulation of these commonly produced synthetic chemicals.

Nancy Langston, a professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology with a joint appointment in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was president of the American Society for Environmental History in 2007-9.

“Like [Rachel] Carson, Langston uses lively and even lyrical writing. . . to tell the story of the risks posed by synthetic compounds currently found in pesticides, pharmaceuticals and plastics, such as BPA.”--Shawn Doherty, The Capital Times

“I’ve just finished reading Toxic Bodies and I have to commend Nancy Langston on a superb and desperately needed new book. Wow! The story (and stories) she tells are staggering and informative and written in an accessible style. This is a landmark study in environmental health and safety. It’s also one of the finest combinations of the themes of gender, science, and the environment that I’ve seen in quite some time—I’ve already recommended it to colleagues and I’m sure it will find a home in many different environmental studies classrooms. Indeed, I intend to assign it in my Environmental History course in the spring semester.”—Professor Kent Curtis, Eckerd College

"It jars the reader when Nancy Langston declares the bodies of American women to be toxic waste sites, but that is precisely what she does.  Since World War II, the United States has saturated foods, ecosystems, and bodies with endocrine-disrupting chemicals, with little regulation. These chemicals haunt American landscapes like ghosts. Langston knows these ghosts all too well, and a frightening personal story also haunts these pages. Toxic Bodies masterfully weaves the historical with the personal, forcing the reader to wonder what is mutating in his or her own body.”—Brett L. Walker, Regent’s Professor of History and Department Chair, Montana State University, Bozeman

“In this fascinating and sometimes terrifying book, Nancy Langston traces the history of DES, one of the earliest endocrine-disrupting chemicals to be widely released into the environment...and into the bodies of human beings and other organisms.  It is a cautionary tale with profound implications for all of us.”—William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West and Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

"You owe it to your children and future generations to pay attention to this book.  And we all owe Nancy Langston a debt of gratitude for illuminating a global hormonal chemical experiment  that is wildly out of control."—John Wargo, Professor of Risk Analysis and Political Science, Yale University

"An important and timely piece of work from a well-established scholar.”—Brian Donahue, Brandeis University

"A fascinating but horrifying account of how the vast majority of the American population became unwitting participants in a large and ultimately disastroua public health experiment."--Jill Sakai, University of Wisconsin--Madison News

"Langston is poised perfectly to examine the scientific and social history of endocrine disruptors. . . . Langston's prose is precise and elegant. Moreover, her explanations of scientific frameworks, data, and debates are quite accessible. . . . This is certainly a fascinating and persuasive study that should be read by anyone interested in environmental health, environmental history, the history of medicine, gender studies, as well as larger questions regarding the entanglements between science, law, industry, medicine, and public policy."—Stacy Alaimo, American Book Review
ISBN: 9780300136074
Publication Date: March 2, 2010
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
11 b/w illus.
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