New Books Network

Harriet Washington

A Terrible Thing to Waste

Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind

Little, Brown Spark 2019

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in Environmental StudiesNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Native American StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Science & Technology September 9, 2019 Brian Hamilton

Environmental racism is visible not only as cancer clusters or the location of grocery stores. It is responsible for the reported gap in IQ...

Environmental racism is visible not only as cancer clusters or the location of grocery stores. It is responsible for the reported gap in IQ scores between white Americans and Black, Latinx, and Native Americans. So argues science writer Harriet Washington in A Terrible to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind (Little, Brown Spark 2019). While acknowledging IQ is a biased and flawed metric, she contends it is useful for tracking cognitive damage. Using copious data and synthesizing a generation of studies, Washington calculates the staggering, population-scale neurological effects of marginalized communities having been forced to live and work in landscapes of waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services. She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, asthma, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and even pathogens as drags on cognitive development to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected—and what can be done to remedy this devastating problem.

Harriet A. Washington has been the Shearing Fellow at the University of Nevada’s Black Mountain Institute, a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University, and a visiting scholar at DePaul University College of Law. She is the author of Deadly Monopolies, Infectious Madness, and Medical Apartheid, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Oakland Award, and the American Library Association Black Caucus Nonfiction Award.


Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he is researching African American environmental history in the nineteenth-century Cotton South. He lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy.