The riveting true story of a small town ravaged by industrial pollution, Toms River melds hard-hitting investigative reporting, a fascinating scientific detective story, and an unforgettable cast of characters into a sweeping narrative in the tradition of A Civil Action, The Emperor of All Maladies, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks . Read more...
The riveting true story of a small town ravaged by industrial pollution, Toms River melds hard-hitting investigative reporting, a fascinating scientific detective story, and an unforgettable cast of characters into a sweeping narrative in the tradition of A Civil Action, The Emperor of All Maladies, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. One of New Jersey's seemingly innumerable quiet seaside towns, Toms River became the unlikely setting for a decades-long drama that culminated in 2001 with one of the largest legal settlements in the annals of toxic dumping. A town that would rather have been known for its Little League World Series champions ended up making history for an entirely different reason: a notorious cluster of childhood cancers scientifically linked to local air and water pollution. For years, large chemical companies had been using Toms River as their private dumping ground, burying tens of thousands of leaky drums in open pits and discharging billions of gallons of acid-laced wastewater into the town's namesake river. In an astonishing feat of investigative reporting, prize-winning journalist Dan Fagin recounts the sixty-year saga of rampant pollution and inadequate oversight that made Toms River a cautionary example for fast-growing industrial towns from South Jersey to South China. He tells the stories of the pioneering scientists and physicians who first identified pollutants as a cause of cancer, and brings to life the everyday heroes in Toms River who struggled for justice: a young boy whose cherubic smile belied the fast-growing tumors that had decimated his body from birth; a nurse who fought to bring the alarming incidence of childhood cancers to the attention of authorities who didn't want to listen; and a mother whose love for her stricken child transformed her into a tenacious advocate for change. A gripping human drama rooted in a centuries-old scientific quest, Toms River is a tale of dumpers at midnight and deceptions in broad daylight, of corporate avarice and government neglect, and of a few brave individuals who refused to keep silent until the truth was exposed. NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR AND KIRKUS REVIEWS "A thrilling journey full of twists and turns, Toms River is essential reading for our times. Dan Fagin handles topics of great complexity with the dexterity of a scholar, the honesty of a journalist, and the dramatic skill of a novelist."--Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies
"A complex tale of powerful industry, local politics, water rights, epidemiology, public health and cancer in a gripping, page-turning environmental thriller."--NPR "Unstoppable reading."--The Philadelphia Inquirer "Meticulously researched and compellingly recounted . . . It's every bit as important--and as well-written--as A Civil Action and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."--The Star-Ledger "Fascinating . . . a gripping environmental thriller."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "An honest, thoroughly researched, intelligently written book."--Slate " A] hard-hitting account . . . a triumph."--Nature
"Absorbing and thoughtful."--USA Today
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- ISBN-13: 9780553806533
- ISBN-10: 055380653X
- Publisher: Bantam
- Publish Date: March 2013
- Page Count: 538
- Dimensions: 9.42 x 6.41 x 1.36 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.92 pounds
A small town takes on a toxic disaster
Despite this book’s emotionally neutral title, Toms River is at bottom a horror story of unregulated capitalism. A Ciba-owned chemical plant came to the coastal town of Toms River, New Jersey, in 1952 to make dyes through processes that used and discharged enormous quantities of water. This same company had been polluting the Ohio River in Cincinnati since the early 1920s, but its huge Toms River plant employed so many local people and contributed so many civic adornments to the community that it took years for the citizens to realize they had clasped a viper to their collective bosom.
First, the plant polluted the adjacent Toms River and the aquifers that supplied the town with its drinking water. Then, when these convenient dumping grounds became overloaded, Ciba constructed a pipeline through the town that enabled it to pump millions of gallons of daily waste water directly into the Atlantic Ocean. Smoke from its operations, which the plant tried to conceal by emitting it at night, persisted in fouling the town’s air.
So firm was Ciba’s economic grip on Toms River that local politicians—and even the city-owned water company—remained docile and compliant as the plant continued its environmental assaults. Whenever Ciba had the choice of either lessening its poisonous impact by installing expensive safety devices or ramping up its public relations pitches, it invariably chose the latter. To make matters worse, in 1971 Union Carbide began dumping barrels of toxic chemicals at a site near Toms River, further polluting the groundwater.
The advent of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 made polluters like Ciba and Union Carbide somewhat more accountable for their actions. But it took a group of Toms River parents of children with cancer to ultimately exact a small measure of justice from their corporate assailants.
Author Dan Fagin, a distinguished science reporter, provides meticulously detailed accounts of the rise of the offending chemical industries, the evolution of the science of epidemiology and the struggle of the fiercely devoted parents who hounded politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs when their natural inclination was to do nothing.