Sandra Steingraber bigraphy, stories - American biologist

Sandra Steingraber : biography

1959 -

Sandra Steingraber (born 1959) is an American biologist, author, and cancer survivor in the tradition of Rachel Carson. Steingraber writes and lectures on the environmental factors that contribute to reproductive health problems and environmental links to cancer.


Sandra Steingraber was adopted as an infant. Steingraber grew up and spent most of her childhood in Tazewell County, Illinois. Her mother was a microbiologist and her father was a community college professor. Her parents inculcated in her an interest in sustainable development and organic agriculture from a young age.

In her 20s, Steingraber developed bladder cancer. She was not alone; in several of her books, she describes an apparent cancer cluster in her hometown and within her family.

After her cancer went into remission, Steingraber completed her undergraduate degree in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University.She worked for several years as a field researcher, eventually earning her doctorate in biology from the University of Michigan. Steingraber also holds a master's degree in English from Illinois State University.

Steingraber was formerly on faculty at Cornell University, she is currently Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Ithaca College, located in Ithaca, New York. Steingraber has held visiting fellowships at the University of Illinois, Radcliffe/Harvard, and Northeastern University, and served on President Clinton's National Action Plan on Breast Cancer.

On March 18, 2013, Steingraber was arrested along with nine other protesters for blocking the entrance to the Inergy natural gas facility near Ithaca to protest "the industrialization of the Finger Lakes." After refusing to pay a fine, Steingraber and two other members of the "Seneca Lake 12" received 15-day sentences. Steingraber served 10 days in the Schuyler County jail in the town of Watkins Glen before being released.

Steingraber currently lives in Trumansburg, New York with her husband Jeff de Castro, a sculptor and art restoration specialist, along with their two children, Faith and Elijah.

Living Downstream

In her 1997 book, Living Downstream, Steingraber blends poetic anecdotes and vivid descriptions of reckless industrial and agricultural pollution with a wealth of data from scientific and medical literature. The result is a compelling analysis of what is known and unknown about the relationship between environmental factors and cancer. Steingraber bemoans the imbalance between funding devoted to studies of genetic predispositions to cancer and the relative paucity of funding devoted to studies of potential environmental contributions to cancer incidence. She argues persuasively that while we can do little to change our genetic inheritance, there is much that can be done to reduce human exposure to environmental carcinogens.

Sandra Steingraber has the same ideals as Rachel Carson. Her text, Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, dives into the ideals of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Steingraber, a woman with bladder cancer, tries to explain and research how and why cancer is linked to the environment. Steingraber stresses issues such as chemical pesticides being rooted indirectly to our body. For example, just like Carson, Steingraber comes up with startling facts. Steingraber states, "in 1996 a study investigated six-fold excess of bladder cancer among workers exposed years before to o-toludine and aniline in the rubber chemicals department of a manufacturing plant in upstate New York. Levels of these contaminants are now well within their legal workplace limits and yet blood and urine samples collected from current employees were found to contain substantial numbers of DNA adducts and detectable levels of o-toulidne and aniline."

"To the 89 percent of Illinois that is farmland, an estimated 54 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are applied each year. Introduced into Illinois at the end of World War II, these chemical poisons quietly familiarized themselves with the landscape. In 1950, less than 10 percent of cornfields were sprayed with pesticides. In 1993, 99 percent were chemically treated," (page 5).

"Living Downstream" is also the basis for a documentary by The People's Picture Company, which chronicles Steingraber's personal struggles as a cancer survivor and her significant contributions as an ecologist and cancer prevention activist.

Awards and honors

  • 1997 – Named a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year.
  • 1998 – First annual Altman Award for “the inspiring and poetic use of science to elucidate the causes of cancer,” from the Jenifer Altman Foundation
  • 1998 – Will Solimene Award for "excellence in medical communication" from the New England chapter of the American Medical Writers Association.
  • 1999 – Sierra Club heralded Steingraber as “the new Rachel Carson.”
  • 2001 – Biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award from Chatham College, Rachel Carson’s alma mater.
  • 2006 – Received the Breast Cancer Fund's "Hero Award" along with Teresa Heinz Kerry. In recognition to honor and publicly thank those who have significantly helped advance our mission to identify and eliminate the environmental—and preventable—causes of breast cancer.
  • 2008 – Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) awarded by Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA, in recognition of excellence in research and writing.
  • 2010 – Named one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" by Utne Reader magazine.
  • 2012 – Received the Heinz Award
  • 2013– Received the Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. award by SUNY college of Environmental Science & Forestry
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