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Biocidal: Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBsby Theodore Michael Dracos
Synopses & Reviews
In 1962, Rachel Carson stunned the world with the publication of Silent Spring, exposing the lethal character of the pesticide DDT. Her work launched a global campaign against synthetic chemical toxins and veritably created a world environmental movement. But unbeknownst to Carson, an even more insidious chemical cousin to DDT had been silently poisoning the biosphere.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were first manufactured in 1920. Seen as a “magic fluid,” they were a cheap and stable heat-transfer material used as a critical coolant in big power grids. The chemical industry soon went on to develop hundreds of other uses for this highly toxic group of substances—everything from copy paper and paint to hydraulic fluids. Despite being outlawed in the U.S. since 1976, PCBs are currently found in the remotest corners of Earth and remain the most prevalent group of industrial chemical contaminants in much of the world. Every human being, from the womb to the grave, bears a body burden of these poisonous molecules forever locked in their blood and tissues.
In Biocidal, investigative journalist Ted Dracos tells the full story of PCBs for the first time, starting with the chilling chronicle of how the chemical industry manipulated regulatory agencies and scientific findings for decades to continue to reap huge profits, despite their knowledge of the threats posed by their “magic fluid.” Dracos draws on extensive research to document the connection between PCBs and catastrophic human illness, presenting the latest science as studies draw ever more disturbing links between PCBs and continued health impacts ranging from cancer and autism to immunosuppression and reproductive abnormalities.
Biocidal also explores the science behind the threat PCBs pose to Earth’s biodiversity: today, killer whales in the Puget Sound are dying, the eggs of Ontario Lake trout are doomed before they can hatch, 99 percent of the freshwater eels of Europe have disappeared, and frogs around the world are going extinct. While these disasters have many possible causes, evidence pointing to PCBs keeps accumulating, much like the toxins in these animals’ systems.
Nonetheless, Dracos leaves readers with a profound message of hope: the damage is not irreversible. In fact, cleanup efforts that involve the removal of the source of PCBs can really work, and quickly. Offering a simple blueprint for steps that can be taken to reduce the impacts of all industrial chemicals, Biocidal ultimately points the way toward a detoxified world.
"Investigative reporter Dracos (Ungodly) shines a bright light on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the resulting grand science experiment in which all living creatures now participate, whether they know it or not. 'So efficient are PCBs at migrating from the environment to the cells of living creatures,' Dracos writes, 'that there is probably not a human being alive who doesn't have PCBs locked somewhere in his or her tissues.' PCBs originated in 1920, and stories of the companies that manufactured and used them in mammoth quantities will satisfy those looking for evidence of corporate depravity, greed, fraud, and downright unethical or even inhumane behavior. With a driving, fast-paced narrative, Dracos traces the history of Monsanto; a corporate physician who hid many health effects that were uncovered in manufacturing and use; and the discovery by a Swedish scientist that PCBs were not only in all the fish he sampled but in the blood of his own family. Dracos goes on to discuss the regulatory changes that began in the 1970s as well as years of stonewalling by GE to avoid cleanup of the Hudson River. Dracos's straightforward reporting delivers one blow after another, but concludes with a seemingly simple, though politically loaded, two-step solution to chemical contamination. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been outlawed since 1976 due to their toxicity, but 50 years of their use has left a toxic legacy around the planet. Dracos, an award-winning investigative reporter, chronicles the development and widespread use of PCBs and, in chapters with titles like "The Man Who Poisoned the Planet" and "The Good Ol' Boys of Monsanto," details how the chemical industry manipulated regulatory agencies despite knowledge of the dangers of PCBs. The author synthesizes research on the connection between PCBs and human illness, environmental damage, and damage to species diversity, drawing on scientific studies, news articles, and court documents. The book also describes clean-up efforts and offers a blueprint of steps for reducing the impact of PCBs and all other industrial chemicals. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
“Innately villainous and shrouded by deceit, PCBs are the cigarettes of the chemical world. Finally, with Biocidal, their treacherous story is told. And, because all of us on Earth carry molecules of PCBs within our bodies, it is a story that all of us on Earth need to hear. Happily, Ted Dracos makes listening to PCBs a captivating task.”
—Sandra Steingraber, biologist and author, Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment
“The first-ever complete and up-to-date story of PCBs and their effects on human health and the ecosystem.”
—Dr. David Carpenter, director, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Man Who Poisoned the Planet
Chapter 2 The Good Ol’ Boys of Monsanto
Chapter 3 The Long Con
Chapter 4 The Discovery
Chapter 5 The Global Poison
Chapter 6 PCBs and Kids
Chapter 7 Adult Realities
Chapter 8 PCBs, Breast Cancer, and Hidden Agendas
Chapter 9 Killer Whales and the Weight
Chapter 10 A Lethal Erosion of the Biosphere
Chapter 11 The Devil’s Gamble
Chapter 12 The Politiks of PCBs
Chapter 13 The Epiphany
Chapter 14 GE and the Jacking of the Hudson
Chapter 15 The Inevitability of Nothing
Chapter 16 Precautionary Agonistes
Chapter 17 Epigenetics, PCBs, and Us
Epilogue Clouds and Sunlight
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