MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
Uncertain Hazards: Environmental Activists and Scientific Proof
Sylvia Noble Tesh
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000
168pp., $16.96 paperback, $35.00 cloth
ISBN 0-8014-3533-1 (cloth)

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Concerned community members and activists who are grappling with the difficulties in understanding the risks of environmental toxins will find Sylvia Tesh's book, Uncertain Hazards, thought provoking and insightful. Tesh explores the inherent limitations of science and environmental epidemiology in describing the public health risks of the myriad of toxic hazards in our environment. She argues for a paradigm shift in the way science evaluates environmental hazards and convincingly notes that communities and activists are vital in bringing about that necessary change.

Her comments are particularly relevant to many of the activities of Southwest Research and Information Center. For example, SRIC has been assisting Navajo communities resist proposed in-situ leach uranium mines in northwestern New Mexico for more than fourteen years. There are already 1,100 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Lands and many sites have never been remediated or evaluated.

Navajo families and communities live with uranium waste piles near homes, grazing lands, and water supplies, and the environmental and public health effects of those abandoned mines have never been fully studied. Unfortunately, due to small population sizes and numerous potential toxins in Navajo communities it is difficult to use traditional epidemiologic techniques to evaluate risk from abandoned mines in the area.

In Uncertain Hazards, Tesh argues that new techniques must be developed and implemented to fully understand environmental risks. SRIC has helped Navajo communities call for new methods of evaluation for uranium related hazards; nine chapters, the Eastern Navajo Health Board, and the Eastern Navajo Agency Council all have passed resolutions asking for scientific expertise and assistance in evaluating abandoned mining areas. SRIC also has worked with Navajo communities and the University of New Mexico to develop sophisticated scientific studies to look at environmental risks in new ways.

Tesh concludes by providing an overview of social movement theory and discusses the importance of support groups, like SRIC, and grassroots community groups in facilitating social change. She ambitiously attempts to describe the philosophical and scientific underpinnings of social movements, which could be confusing for readers without backgrounds in social movement theory. For example, she presents an overview of Michel Foucault's analysis of language and power in four brief sentences.

Despite the brevity of some sections, Tesh does an excellent job of presenting important concepts relating to environmental risks and calling for necessary change in scientific methods of inquiry. Her emphasis on the need for community based activists to facilitate that change is welcomed, and it is refreshing to see that community work is being recognized and encouraged.

--John Fogarty M.D., M.P.H.

If you are interested in writing reviews, please let us know via e-mail: Info@sric.org, or call us at 505-262-1862. You can also write to us at Voices, c/o SRIC, PO Box 4524, Albuquerque, NM 87106. Thank you.

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"In 1990 five U.S. National Laboratories reported that either fair competition plus restored research priority, or a proper accounting of its environmental benefits, could enable renewable energy to supply three-fifths of today's total U.S. energy requirements at competitive prices. Renewables could even supply one-fifth more electricity that the United States now uses."

--Natural Capitalism, 1989
Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

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