Synthesis/Regeneration 9   (Winter 1996)

Lois Marie Gibbs and the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste

Dying From Dioxin, A Citizen's Guide to Reclaiming Our Health

reviewed by Mark Guy, Gateway Green Alliance

Dying From Dioxin, A Citizen's Guide to Reclaiming Our Health
by Lois Marie Gibbs and the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste
South End Press, Boston, Mass., 1995. 361 pp. Paper, $20.00.

Industry's love of chlorine began near the turn of the century, when the waste product from the electrolysis of salt, chlorine, was handed over to the German and American organic chemical companies. Dow was a pioneer in this regard. Chlorine met phenol in the twenties, to give rise to biocides that are still with us, and in us, and in the foods we eat. It is now possible to detect dioxin in all mammalian species, not to mention all other media of the planet such as soil, water, sediment and polar ice caps.

Lois Gibbs story is a legacy of chlorine chemistry:

"In 1978, my neighbors and I discovered that our neighborhood in Love Canal, New York, had been built next to 21,800 tons of buried toxic chemicals. When we bought our homes, none of us knew that Hooker Chemical Corporation, a division of Occidental Petroleum, had dumped 200 tons of a toxic, dioxin-laden chemical called trichlorophenol and 21,600 tons of various other chemicals into Love Canal. We just knew we were getting sick. We knew there were too many miscarriages, too many birth defects, too many central nervous system problems, too many urinary tract disorders, and too much asthma and other respiratory problems among us."

The best defense against corporate & government power is knowledge. Ms. Gibbs and the Citizen's Clearinghouse have assembled an enormous amount of science and strategy to make this book a necessary reference item on every activists desk. Part I of Dying From Dioxin covers the basics of dioxin science and politics. Part II gives you the tools to organize and fight against dioxin sources in your back yard.

Of the two, Ms. Gibbs stresses that stategy is more important than science. The science section is a "plain english" version of the Draft Dioxin Reassessment released by the EPA in late 1994. The fight against the tragic poisoning of those in her neighborhood that gave rise to the Clearinghouse—and the strategy portion—is Ms. Gibbs lasting achievement in the long struggle from then to now.

There are two parts to the dioxin story: the science of how people are being poisoned, and the politics of why.

We need to save ourselves by saving each other...[To do this,], every community needs to have an active and committed group of residents working to shut down local dioxin sources...We have to explore how people became powerless as the corporations became powerful.

If you are compelled to resist the injustice of a society and a political and economic system that allows, fosters, nurtures, and coddles the corporate tyrants that are poisoning us all, then this book gives you the tools to do so. Fighting back is an act of courage, and is not a commitment that should be chosen lightly.

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