In her new book Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES, environmental historian Nancy Langston documents the damage caused by the hormone-mimicking drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) before—and long after—federal regulatory officials restricted its use. It’s a tragic tale that describes how DES was prescribed to women as an estrogen substitute and allowed to enter the food system through animal products, despite being a known carcinogen.
For Langston, a professor in the forest and wildlife ecology department with a joint appointment in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the book is both a cautionary tale and a case study that can inform modern efforts to ban chemicals of concern such as bisphenol A (BPA).
In a review, John Wargo, a professor of risk analysis and political science at Yale University, described the book this way:
“Nancy Langston has given us a deeply disturbing analysis of government neglect of synthetic hormones. By taking us back to the beginning of the twentieth century, she traces the failure of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect society from hormonally active drugs, growth stimulants fed to livestock, and chemical ingredients in plastics. This is a wonderful history, woven together by deep insight into both public health and ecology, one with many lessons for modern precautionary policy. You owe it to your children and future generations to pay attention to this book. And we all owe Langston a debt of gratitude for illuminating a global hormonal chemical experiment that is wildly out of control.”