Environmental Activist/Biologist Sandra Steingraber – a closer look

Happy Wednesday! As part of our focus on our most-requested speakers for Spring 2020, we’re going to take a closer look at biologist/activist Sandra Steingraber.


The Sierra Club declared that Dr. Steingraber was “the new Rachel Carson”. That’s quite a reputation to live up to! But because of her scholarship, her writing, and her activism, she has more than earned it.


Dr. Steingraber was diagnosed with cancer while an undergraduate at Illinois Wesleyan University. While successfully recovering from the illness, she discovered many relatives who had also developed cancer. At first blush, you might think that was a clue to a genetic cause of the disease … except Dr. Steingraber was adopted! She did not share her relative’s DNA, but what they did share was a common water table in agricultural land.

After completing her Ph.D. in Biological Science from University of Michigan, Dr. Steingraber was a field researcher, and began her own research and writing into her experience with cancer, and how chemical run-off from farms was polluting the local water supply. This became her first book on the environment, Living Downstream. Just as Carson had described her own battle with bladder cancer in Silent Spring, Dr. Steingraber used her experiences as a biologist and cancer survivor to inform her writing and research. The book would be widely praised for its’ academic rigor and deeply personal reflection.


In Living Downstream, she wrote “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…”

Her next two books, Having Faith and Raising Elijah, continued her research on environmental impacts on human health, in pregnancy and in the developing child, respectively.


She continues to actively protest fracking and natural gas storage issues in her community, which has garnered her national attention and several nights in the county jail for civil disobedience, including her recent arrest on the steps of the US Capitol Building with environmental activists that included Jane Fonda and Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard.

The many awards and recognitions Dr. Steingraber has received include the Heinze Environmental Champion award, the biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award from Chatham College (Carson’s alma mater), Ms. MagazineWoman of the Year”, and one of the “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing The World” from Utne Reader magazine.


Let us know if you’d like to bring Sandra Steingraber to speak to your organization, campus, or conference!


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!