Heinz conference mobilizes women to fight environmental health threats

Jane Houlihan, the Environmental Working Group's vice president for research, and development associate Jocelyn Lyle joined more than 2,000 women at this week's Heinz Women's Health and the Environment Conference in Pittsburgh, sponsored by philanthropist Teresa Heinz, the Heinz Endowments and Magee-Women's Hospital. Jocelyn's report:

There wasn't a stray Blackberry click when journalist Nancy Nichols took the podium. Nichols, of Waukegan, Ill., grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan, swimming in its waters, eating fresh-caught fish. Only, as she and her older sister Sue learned to their sorrow, the big lake was a deadly stew of industrial chemicals. Waukegan was surrounded by no less than three Superfund sites notorious for high levels of known and suspected carcinogens, including asbestos from a Johns Mansville insulation plant and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) from discharges of hydraulic fluids by Outboard Marine Corp.

In 1992, at the age of 41, Sue Nichols was diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer. On her deathbed, she made Nancy swear she would investigate what was killing her. The result was Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town's Toxic Legacy, published last month by Island Press. The book, which Nancy Nichols summarized in her keynote address to the Heinz conference, is an eloquent indictment of decades of corporate carelessness, official inaction and American society's reflexive focus on searching for a cure instead of a cause.

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