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Book Review: Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children by Philip Shabecoff and Alice Shabecoff

Review by Dina Fine Maron

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In this powerful investigative work, the Shabecoffs tell the stories of communities from Dickson, Tenn., to Pittsfield, Mass., where chemicals have seeped into water, air and bodies—debilitating children and leaving parents searching for answers.

The authors capture community efforts to connect clusters of disease to chemicals—including TCE, phthalates, chromium 5 and Teflon—and illuminate the underlying policy reasons for gaps in governmental oversight.

Written in highly readable prose, the book critically examines why some of these chemicals have not been regulated in America and enumerates cases where companies settled with affected families out of court, paying off the families in exchange for “no fault” clauses.

Beyond identifying these important issues in consultation with experts, the Shabecoffs provide concrete safety tips on topics including purifying water, avoiding toxins in cars, keeping chemicals out of the home and buying safer plastics.

More than a hundred interviews with corporate researchers, public health leaders, government insiders and affected families support this cautionary tale of collusion that falls short of being alarmist. The authors ask readers to demand accountability and public health scrutiny for the benefit of future generations.

“We focused on children because people care about children, but they are only our canary in the coal mine,” Philip Shabecoff said at a September book talk in Washington, D.C. “We are all at risk.”

Random House, 2008, 353 p., $26

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