A terrible thing to waste Environmental racism and its assault on the American mind

Harriet A. Washington

Book - 2019

"From injuries caused by lead poisoning to the devastating effects of atmospheric pollution, infectious disease, and industrial waste, Americans of color are harmed by environmental hazards in staggeringly disproportionate numbers. This systemic onslaught of toxic exposure and institutional negligence causes irreparable physical harm to millions of people across the country--cutting lives tragically short and needlessly burdening our health care system. But these deadly environments create ...another insidious and often overlooked consequence: robbing communities of color, and America as a whole, of intellectual power. The 1994 publication of The Bell Curve and its controversial thesis catapulted the topic of genetic racial differences in IQ to the forefront of a renewed and heated debate. Now, in A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer Harriet A. Washington adds her incisive analysis to the fray, arguing that IQ is a biased and flawed metric, but that it is useful for tracking cognitive damage. She takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, using copious data that instead point to a different cause of the reported African American-white IQ gap: environmental racism--a confluence of racism and other institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services. She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and even pathogens as chief agents influencing intelligence to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected--and what can be done to remedy this devastating problem. Featuring extensive scientific research and Washington's sharp, lively reporting, A Terrible Thing to Waste is sure to outrage, transform the conversation, and inspire debate."--Dust jacket.

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Subjects
Published
New York, NY : Little, Brown Spark 2019.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
360 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 309-350) and index.
ISBN
9780316509435
0316509434
Main Author
Harriet A. Washington (author)
  • Introduction: IQ matters
  • Part I: Color-coded intelligence?
  • The prism of race : how politics shroud the truth about our nation's IQ
  • Part II: The brain thieves.
  • The lead age : heavy metals, low IQs
  • Poisoned world : the racial gradient of environmental neurotoxins
  • Prenatal policies : protecting the developing brain
  • Bugs in the system : how microbes sap U.S. intelligence
  • Part III: Mission possible : how to bolster the nation's IQ.
  • Taking the cure : what can you do, now?
  • A wonderful thing to save : how communities can unite to preserve brainpower
  • Glossary
  • List of known chemical brain drainers.
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Washington (Medical Apartheid) examines the devastating environmental poisoning impacting communities across the United States. Industrial chemicals have a profound impact on both adults and children, and result in chronic illnesses and intellectual impairment. The intelligence-eroding chemicals have been labeled "brain drainers." Washington passionately and eloquently explains that these harmful chemicals are often found in African American, Latinx, and Native American communities. Chapters detail the negative impact of lead, oil and gas facilities, pesticides, coal mines and plants, and heavy metals along with bugs and microbes. Statistics as well as quotes from pertinent research and writers are combined with human interest stories that illustrate the crisis we're currently facing. Washington encourages political activism and offers information on what we can do to stop the brain drain. VERDICT Recommended for all libraries, especially those with environmental and social and political justice collections. This evocative work will haunt readers long after they've finished reading.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mt. Carmel Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this searing indictment, scholar and researcher Washington (Medical Apartheid) pores over decades of examples and evidence to assess the damage that "environmental poisoning" has on communities of color. Washington persuasively argues that environmental toxins are much more prevalent in areas where marginalized people live, inequitably harming the brains, health, and future of black, Hispanic, and Native American children; she identifies the consequences as a "collective loss" for the nation and staggering medical and economic costs. Washington offers anecdotal evidence and damning data—on, for example, polychlorinated biphenyl pollution in Anniston, Ala.; ongoing lead poisoning in Flint, Mich., and in Baltimore; and air contamination with pesticides (in Triana, Ala.) and arsenic (in Fort Meyers, Fla.)—to argue that the U.S. should no longer let "industrial greed" trump public safety concerns. She also makes a persuasive presentation of "brain drainers," including toxic chemicals, substances such as tobacco, vermin, and dangerous microbes, that produce "reduced mental functioning" and "horrifying cognitive symptoms" and disproportionately affect minority populations. The structure of the book leads to frequent repetition, and the intended audience seems to switch from policy makers and Washington's fellow researchers to parents, as in the third section, which lists actions that might limit or ameliorate children's exposures to toxins and suggests ways communities might organize in their defense. Nonetheless, this urgent chronicle of ongoing damage will be eye-opening for many readers. Illus. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM Partners. (July) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Medical Apartheid outlines recommendations for assisting marginalized communities, demonstrating how environmental racism and erroneous beliefs about hereditary intelligence drive the racial IQ gap. 30,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"From injuries caused by lead poisoning to the devastating effects of atmospheric pollution, infectious disease, and industrial waste, Americans of color are harmed by environmental hazards in staggeringly disproportionate numbers. This systemic onslaught of toxic exposure and institutional negligence causes irreparable physical harm to millions of people across the country--cutting lives tragically short and needlessly burdening our health care system. But these deadly environments create another insidious and often overlooked consequence: robbing communities of color, and America as a whole, of intellectual power. The 1994 publication of The Bell Curve and its controversial thesis catapulted the topic of genetic racial differences in IQ to the forefront of a renewed and heated debate. Now, in A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer Harriet A. Washington adds her incisive analysis to the fray, arguing that IQ is a biased and flawed metric, but that it is useful for tracking cognitive damage. She takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, using copious data that instead point to a different cause of the reported African American-white IQ gap: environmental racism--a confluence of racism and other institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services. She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and even pathogens as chief agents influencing intelligence to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected--and what can be done to remedy this devastating problem"--Dust jacket.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Demonstrates how environmental racism influences the racial IQ gap and explains what needs to be done to remedy its effects on marginalized communities.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A "powerful and indispensable" look at the devastating consequences of environmental racism (Gerald Markowitz) -- and what we can do to remedy its toxic effects on marginalized communities.Did you know...Middle-class African American households with incomes between $50,000 and $60,000 live in neighborhoods that are more polluted than those of very poor white households with incomes below $10,000.When swallowed, a lead-paint chip no larger than a fingernail can send a toddler into a coma -- one-tenth of that amount will lower his IQ.Nearly two of every five African American homes in Baltimore are plagued by lead-based paint. Almost all of the 37,500 Baltimore children who suffered lead poisoning between 2003 and 2015 were African American.From injuries caused by lead poisoning to the devastating effects of atmospheric pollution, infectious disease, and industrial waste, Americans of color are harmed by environmental hazards in staggeringly disproportionate numbers. This systemic onslaught of toxic exposure and institutional negligence causes irreparable physical harm to millions of people across the country-cutting lives tragically short and needlessly burdening our health care system. But these deadly environments create another insidious and often overlooked consequence: robbing communities of color, and America as a whole, of intellectual power.The 1994 publication of The Bell Curve and its controversial thesis catapulted the topic of genetic racial differences in IQ to the forefront of a renewed and heated debate. Now, in A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer Harriet A. Washington adds her incisive analysis to the fray, arguing that IQ is a biased and flawed metric, but that it is useful for tracking cognitive damage. She takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, using copious data that instead point to a different cause of the reported African American-white IQ gap: environmental racism - a confluence of racism and other institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services. She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and even pathogens as chief agents influencing intelligence to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected -- and what can be done to remedy this devastating problem.Featuring extensive scientific research and Washington's sharp, lively reporting, A Terrible Thing to Waste is sure to outrage, transform the conversation, and inspire debate.