From the April 2014 Desktop News | With Anniston as the backdrop, Dr. Ellen Spears, assistant professor in New College and the Department of American Studies, explores environmental justice in her new book, Baptized in PCBs, which was released April 7.
Though focused on the 1990s legal battle between Anniston residents and the agrochemical company Monsanto, which dumped cancer-causing chemicals into the city’s working-class west side, Spears also addresses broader topics, such as significant themes in the social history of environmental health.
Spears said her inspiration for the book came from a quote by Eudora Welty: “One place understood helps us understand all places better.”
“The Anniston story points to the need to improve how the United States regulates toxic chemicals,” Spears said. “The intertwined impact of southern industrialization and militarization, the chemical industry and the U.S. Army’s Cold War chemical weapons program, can be read on the land – and in the case of PCBs, in the bodies – of Anniston residents.”
The book examines the role of industrial hygienists in identifying toxic hazards in the 1930s, who set the terms under which the chemical industry and the military produced and used toxic chemicals. It also draws connections between the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the environmental justice movement of the 1990s.
Spears said she conducted scores of interviews for the book, interviews which took her from Anniston to San Francisco, St. Louis and Stockholm, Sweden. She interviewed activists in the fight against PCBs, participants in the campaign for safe chemical weapons disposal, Monsanto and Solutia officials, Environmental Protection Agency staff and military affairs personnel, among others.
“I sought to place these voices prominently in the text,” she said. “Those voices are some of my favorite parts of the book.”
Copies of Baptized in PCBs can be purchased from the University of North Carolina Press website, www.uncpress.unc.edu, or from Amazon.com, The University of Alabama SupeStore, and other online book outlets worldwide.