When Smoke Ran Like Water

WED, MAR 12, 2003 (1:20:35)

Devra Davis combines her deep personal connection to issues of health and the environment with her formidable scientific expertise, arguing for fundamentally new ways of thinking about health and the environment. Before she became one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, Davis was the victim of environmental pollution. As a young girl in Donora, Pennsylvania, she saw 20 of her home town community members die and scores permanently injured in the smog disaster of October 26th, 1948. In her new landmark book, When Smoke Ran Like Water, Devra Davis documents how environmental toxins contribute to a broad spectrum of diseases. The book’s title alludes to an event 50 years ago in London. Davis writes that “cool air from across the English Channel settled over the Thames River Valley and did not move. London’s eight million residents huddled indoors and warmed themselves by their coal stoves. Smoke ran like tap water from a million chimneys.” The inversion layer that had formed over the English capital trapped the coal smoke at ground level. The result was smog so thick that people could not find their own homes, automobile traffic ground to a halt, and people died in droves. The smog is now estimated to have killed some 12,000 people.

+ BIO: Devra Davis

Designated a National Book Award Finalist for When Smoke Ran Like Water (2002, Basic Books), Devra Davis is director of the worlds first Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and professor of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburghs Graduate School of Public Health. Her recent book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, was a top pick by Newsweek and is being used at major schools of public health, including Harvard, Emory, and Tulane University. Dr. Davis’ career has spanned all areas of academia, public policy, and scientific research. President Clinton appointed the honorable Dr. Davis to the newly established Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, (1994-99) an independent executive branch agency that investigates, prevents, and mitigates chemical accidents. As the former senior advisor to the assistant secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, she has counseled leading officials in the United States, United Nations, World Health Organization, and World Bank. She also served as a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in which the group awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with the honorable Al Gore. Dr. Davis holds a BS in physiological psychology and a MA in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. She completed a PhD in science studies at the University of Chicago as a Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellow and a MPH in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University as a Senior National Cancer Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow. She has also authored more than 190 publications in books and journals ranging from the Lancet and Journal of the American Medical Association to Scientific American and the New York Times.

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