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A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  609 ratings  ·  93 reviews
A "powerful and indispensable book" on the devastating consequences of environmental racism--and what we can do to remedy its toxic effects on marginalized communities.

Did you know...

Middle-class African-American households with incomes between $50,000 and $60,000 live in neighborhoods that are more polluted than those of very poor white households with incomes less than $
...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 23rd 2019 by Little, Brown Spark
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Quineka Ragsdale Although I have recently learned that IQ tests are not a valid scientific measure of intelligence, I do believe its a useful metric when evaluating th…moreAlthough I have recently learned that IQ tests are not a valid scientific measure of intelligence, I do believe its a useful metric when evaluating the cognitive damage wrought by environmental pollution. This is not a connection that I have heard of prior to this book, but the IQ, no matter how flawed, presents some type of control when measuring the impact of environmental pollutants within humans.(less)

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Jenna
Jun 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: race, non-fiction
An infuriating exposé detailing how minority children are being poisoned in America

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind is meticulously researched and shows how those in poor and minority communities in America are routinely exposed to toxins, ones that often affect brain development and lower IQs in children and fetuses.

The author Harriet A. Washington spends the first part of the book discussing IQ, what it is and what it isn't and why it's impor
...more
Kara Babcock
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The common reaction to people seeing what I was reading with A Terrible Thing to Waste was, “Environmental racism? What’s that?” So I explained it to them, fairly succinctly I think, because it really isn’t that difficult of a concept. Indeed, when I mentioned that, historically, decisions about where to dump waste and where to build factories and how to zone cities or rent houses have disproportionately affected marginalized and racialized people, most of those who asked nodded and went, “Oh, y ...more
Lois
This was incredibly well researched and while the subject matter is weighty, the writing style is easily accessible.
This is critical reading to understand the IMPACT of the IQ myth of the Black Community in the US and worldwide.
First many of the original West African Black subjects tested for IQ were orphaned children fleeing conflict. Also the researchers measuring the IQ were white supremacists. Both factors impact these original IQ scores.
Also nutrition and environment impact IQ scores.
The h
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Leanne
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Environmental racism is an incredibly important issue that is often ignored in our political zeitgeist, even within environmentalist circles. The strongest section of this book is the lead section, where she weaves a direct line from corporate greed through government irresponsibility through housing discrimination tied up with racism specifically against African Americans. It helps that a large chunk of the data and anecdata around environmental racism are lead-related, which points to why the ...more
Michael
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I want to note a few of the recurring trends in how big businesses deal with peddling toxic chemicals, for anyone wanting to identify what's going on in the rhetoric. This also applies equally to those companies who are currently profiting despite their negative impact on the environment, and their direct and easy to identify connection to the heating of this planet.

1. Get your product out there, toxic or not.
Have you already identified that your product has some minor problems? Is it causing
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Elizabeth StClair
May 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
I want to say I enjoyed this book, but to be honest, it was a struggle to read. And not because of the material covered (I was prepared for the environmental racism, and learned much about the development of a child's mind), but because of the organization of the book itself. Frankly, it took too long to read this book, and by the end, I was skimming. It's poorly organized, repetitive, and easily distracted from one sentence to the next. Some of the data quoted confused me, such as a citation th ...more
David Wineberg
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is a (perhaps) lesser known aspect of American racism whereby people and institutions assume blacks are dumber than whites, that they are untrainable and don’t deserve as much pay for the same work as whites. Blacks don’t think clearly or fast enough, they don’t process or retain well, and they’re slow to move, think and speak. Harriet Washington shows in no uncertain terms that blacks have been systematically neglected and poisoned into this condition in A Terrible Thing To Waste.

In chapt
...more
Kelsey
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
Excellent book on environmental racism in America and the effects felt by people both directly and indirectly. Her information about how environmental racism impacts IQ was fascinating and easy to understand. I figured the topic of lead would come up, as well as the situation in Flint, Michigan, but Washington was able to do a deep dive that can still be engaging even if you think you know a bit about the subject.

The author does a great job outlining the scientific and medical facts necessary to
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Cathy
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs, 2019-books
The issue of environmental racism is one that many are sadly unaware of. There is a great deal of ignorance around the fact that where you live can have a significant impact on your potential for success. There is little discussion regarding how often decisions that can have a deleterious effect on quality of life in these environments are based on race.


Consider for example:


* The lack of effort to remediate lead-based paint in black neighborhoods.
* The frequency with which black neighborhoods a
...more
Corvus
Harriet Washington is known by many as the author of the harrowing and important "Medical Apartheid" in which she details a long history of medical and scientific abuse of Black individuals and communities. I consider this mandatory reading for any US American. "A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind," brings a whole new dimension of horror of what it is like to be Black, Brown, and/or poor in the USA. She tackles everything from exposure to dangerou ...more
Morgan Malatesta
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kristin
Nov 28, 2020 rated it liked it
I have so many feelings about this book. It is well researched, includes a lot of case studies, and makes a really compelling case for the way that racism has played a role in poisoning marginalized people in the US. It's condemning and horrifying and will have you ready to throw things at a wall. At the same time, the book focuses on the mental harm from these poisons, primarily the way that things like lead can cause real mental harm to children and infants. My biggest qualm is that this book ...more
Tetyana
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Washington presents an overwhelming encyclopedia chronicling the “mental and intellectual devastation wrought by the exposure of marginalized racial groups to toxic environmental contaminants.” I can tell this book will be an invaluable resource of evidence for me, akin to a textbook in your library to which you can come back to again and again, on the disproportionate effect of not only lead poisoning and pollution, but also other “brain thieves” such as heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient pre ...more
Erik
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Though her book came out before Covid hit, Washington's look at the impacts of toxic chemical pollution and other environmental harms on communities of color updates environmental justice. .

She does talk about other disease threats, especially neglected tropical diseases (NGDs) like chagas and Zika that Americans think don't affect us but actually do hit southern states and their communities of color hard. And surprisingly, aside from their main impacts, these diseases also harm the brain, espec
...more
Camille McCarthy
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Washington brings to light the damage of environmental racism on the IQ of people of color through incredibly strong writing and hard-hitting data. This book made me incredibly angry, as we all should be, at how people of color have been treated and are still treated today. She points out how the "achievement gap" may be at least partially attributed to children of color literally being poisoned and robbed of their intellect from environmental factors such as lead paint, PCBs, and polluted air. ...more
Nina
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life and made me feel like I have been steeped in poison my whole life while also teaching me that there actually are entire communities that are actually steeped in poison. In reading I definitely thought less about IQ and more about cognitive issues arising from environmental racism, but the author does begin with an acknowledgment that IQ is a flawed, yet sometimes useful, metric. I knew a bit about the toxic dumping of materials and the deathly living conditions forced u ...more
Amber
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
This book is incredibly well researched and well written. I highly recommend it to everyone. Washington not only covers the connections between intellect and environmental toxins but she gives realistic and helpful ideas for community organizations to fight for their rights.
Edward Sullivan
A deeply disturbing but sadly unsurprising, deeply research examination of environmental racism in the United States and its catastrophic effects, particularly on the cognitive abilities of non-white American children.
Saima
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was pretty familiar with the content having worked in this world, but it was a good refresher. Definitely recommend it for people wanting to learn more about the issue.
Samantha
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is accessible even for my non-science scholar brain and completely horrifying.
Danni
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the scariest book I have ever read. I called my friend and told him how scared I was. I also texted friends of mine to encourage them to read this book.

The horrors discussed in this book induce fear and anxiety not because I was unaware of environmental racism, but because I live in New York City, one of the locations discussed in the book, and am aware of the seriousness of asthma in the South Bronx and other parts of New York City that are home to Black and Latinx communities.

From th
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Chasity
Jul 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
This is insane. I live in Anniston Alabama and while she states the legal side of the whole Monsanto situation and pcbs.. wherever she got her info on the nature of the city is very... VERY.. innacurate. My children play outside all the time. Our parks are just fine. I've NEVER seen anyone cut their grass with a mask, shoo their children away from parks, our children are not eerily quiet, there is NO backdrop of biohazard signs and chain link fence. Our town is like any other town.. I've never h ...more
Bookworm
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
With the emphasis on climate change and news, it seemed like it would be an interesting read. I know a little about environmental racism but was looking forward to learning more.

It was a struggle. The introduction as interesting but then moved to a discussion of IQ. Initially I couldn't quite understand why the author started off with this particular conversation because it seemed like (at first) that it might end up being about something different. Then the book gets really bogged down in scien
...more
Bayley
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs, nonfiction, 2019
Being a science communicator is hard. You have to be able to walk the incredibly fine line of not talking down to the people who are experts in the field while simultaneously trying to convey exactly the right amount to information to make the layman reader understand and not feel overwhelmed or too stupid to keep listening. Harriet Washington does a fantastic job of this.
The introduction stars us off on the topic of IQ. I was mildly worried I was not going to enjoy this book because I knew jus
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Jake
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
The book begins with a scathing attack on scientific racism. This is the view that certain races are more intelligent than others based on their genetic makeup. Intellectuals like Charles Murray and Francis Crick have continued a long tradition (a tradition begun to justify slavery) of arguing that it's just the DNA and there's nothing you can do about racial inequities. The methodology of the studies suggesting that blacks are inherently less intelligent was laughable. For example, in places li ...more
Will Payne
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you wanted to use statistics to find out where an urban landfill is located in the average American city, what variables would you choose? The geology underneath the site? Land values near the site? Perhaps even a low income level of people living near the site? These are all predictive variables, but they are not as powerful as another, unexpected factor: race. Independent of income or any other consideration, Black and Latino neighborhoods in American cities are disproportionately exposed t ...more
Katherine
Apr 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Already some of the least privileged groups in America, people of color are consistently harmed by environmental hazards. Heavy metals, toxic chemicals, pests- these and more are having a detrimental effect on the mental and physical health of communities affected by relentless exposures. From factories churning out dangerous byproducts, to waste dumping sites, to unsafe building practices, to the corporate promotion of substances without clinical safety trials, this deadly environment is wreaki ...more
Marian P
Harriet Washington’s A Terrible Thing to Waste is a chock-full study of the impact of environmental racism on communities of color in the United States. Washington, a science writer and ethicist, has written prolifically including the acclaimed book Medical Apartheid. Like that book, A Terrible Waste recounts gripping stories of communities in trauma owing to the taint of such toxins as lead, arsenic, and PCBs. The main premise of the book is that dangerous chemicals have tainted the ground, air ...more
Nathan
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I've read and am re-reading Washington's more well known book, Medical Apartheid, and that prompted me to find this second book by her. In it, what is noticeable is how she pores over decades of examples and evidence to assess the damage that “environmental poisoning” has on communities of color. I am most persuaded by how she argues that environmental toxins are much more prevalent in areas where marginalized people live, inequitably harming the brains, health, and future of black, Hispanic, an ...more
Soap
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Actual rating 3.5
I have to dock it a full star because I just could not get through the last 50 pages of the book and didn't want to really try. The last two chapters seem to be primarily about what we as individuals can do to solve a global environmental crisis, which I could see where the author may be coming from trying to present this information, but I definitely feel like this should have additionally targeted large companies, corporations, and governments who are either covering up their
...more
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Harriet Washington is the author of Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself and of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, which won the 2007 National Book Critics’ Circle Award and was named one of the year’s Best Books by Publishers’ Weekly. She has won many other awards for her work on medici ...more

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