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Toms River : a story of science and salvation / Dan Fagin.

By: Fagin, Dan [author.].
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: New York Bantam Books, [2013]Copyright date: copyright2013Edition: 1st ed.Description: xv, 538 pages : map ; 25 cm.Content type: text | cartographic image Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780553806533 (hardback).Subject(s): Drinking water -- Contamination -- Health aspects -- Toms River Region | Cancer -- Toms River Region | Groundwater -- Pollution -- Health aspects -- Toms River Region | Drinking water -- Contamination -- Health aspects -- New Jersey -- Toms River Watershed | Cancer -- New Jersey -- Toms River Watershed | Groundwater -- Pollution -- Health aspects -- New Jersey -- Toms River Watershed | Water quality -- New Jersey -- Toms River Watershed | Air -- Pollution -- adverse effects -- New Jersey -- Popular Works | Chemical industry -- New Jersey -- Popular Works | Tumors -- epidemiology -- New Jersey -- Popular Works | Toms River Watershed (N.J.) -- Environmental conditionsDDC classification: 363.7209749/48
Prologue: Marking time -- I. The ice cream factory -- Pirates -- Insensible things -- First fingerprints -- Secrets -- Sharkey and Columbo at the Rustic Acres -- Cells -- On Cardinal Drive -- II. Breach -- Water and salt -- Hippies in the kitchen -- The coloring contest -- Cases -- Acceptable risks -- Friends and neighbors -- III. Counting -- Two wards, two hits -- Cluster busting -- Moving on -- Invisible trauma -- A cork in the ocean -- Expectations -- IV. Causes -- Outsiders -- Surrogacy -- Blood work -- Associations -- Legacies.
Awards: Pulitzer Prizes in Letters - General Non-fiction (winner)2014.Summary: Recounts the decades-long saga of the New Jersey seaside town plagued by childhood cancers caused by air and water pollution due to the indiscriminate dumping of toxic chemicals.
List(s) this item appears in: 9. Your Best Reads of 2017
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

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.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Prologue: Marking time -- I. The ice cream factory -- Pirates -- Insensible things -- First fingerprints -- Secrets -- Sharkey and Columbo at the Rustic Acres -- Cells -- On Cardinal Drive -- II. Breach -- Water and salt -- Hippies in the kitchen -- The coloring contest -- Cases -- Acceptable risks -- Friends and neighbors -- III. Counting -- Two wards, two hits -- Cluster busting -- Moving on -- Invisible trauma -- A cork in the ocean -- Expectations -- IV. Causes -- Outsiders -- Surrogacy -- Blood work -- Associations -- Legacies.

Recounts the decades-long saga of the New Jersey seaside town plagued by childhood cancers caused by air and water pollution due to the indiscriminate dumping of toxic chemicals.

Pulitzer Prizes in Letters - General Non-fiction (winner)2014.

2 5 11 22 37 60 89 96 119 130 151 172

Table of contents provided by Syndetics

  • Prologue: Marking Time (p. xi)
  • I The Ice Cream Factory
  • 1 Pirates (p. 3)
  • 2 Insensible Things (p. 22)
  • 3 First Fingerprints (p. 40)
  • 4 Secrets (p. 55)
  • 5 Sharkey and Columbo at the Rustic Acres (p. 74)
  • 6 Cells (p. 97)
  • 7 On Cardinal Drive (p. 119)
  • II Breach
  • 8 Water and Salt (p. 137)
  • 9 Hippies in the Kitchen (p. 156)
  • 10 The Coloring Contest (p. 173)
  • 11 Cases (p. 198)
  • 12 Acceptable Risks (p. 219)
  • 13 Friends and Neighbors (p. 231)
  • III Counting
  • 14 Two Wards, Two Hits (p. 251)
  • 15 Cluster Busting (p. 272)
  • 16 Moving On (p. 287)
  • 17 Invisible Trauma (p. 308)
  • 18 A Cork in the Ocean (p. 325)
  • 19 Expectations (p. 341)
  • IV Causes
  • 20 Outsiders (p. 363)
  • 21 Surrogacy (p. 384)
  • 22 Blood Work (p. 403)
  • 23 Associations (p. 418)
  • 24 Legacies (p. 442)
  • Acknowledgments (p. 463)
  • Notes (p. 467)
  • Index (p. 523)

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

It is no small challenge to spend long days and longer nights in a place where children die, but Lisa Boornazian had the knack. She began working at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in 1991, during the summer of her senior year of nursing school at Villanova University. The following year she found a home in the cancer ward at CHOP. Back then she was Lisa Davenport, and not much older than some of her patients. "I loved working in oncology. I saw plenty of nurses who came to work at the unit and it wasn't what they expected. They just couldn't stay. But I loved it," she remembered. The ward was a surprisingly lively place, where little kids dashed down the wide hallways with their wheeled intravenous stands clattering beside them. The older children, though, were much more difficult to deal with. "The teenagers had a grasp of death, and what the diagnosis meant," Boornazian said. "The younger kids mostly had no idea." Those with brain or bone cancers faced long odds. Survival rates were better for children with blood cancers, principally leukemia and lymphoma, but their treatments took many months and were brutal: chemotherapy, often followed by radiation and bone marrow transplants. The work shifts on the oncology ward were organized in a way that made it impossible for the nurses to keep an emotional distance from their assigned patients, since the same three or four nurses would take care of a child for months on end. Their relationships with parents were equally intense. Many parents practically lived in the ward and went home only to shower and change clothes before rushing back. The nurses worked under the unforgiving gaze of mothers and fathers driven half-mad by lack of sleep and the sight of their children enduring a pitiless cycle of excruciating needle sticks, nausea attacks, and dressing changes. Parents would frequently take out their anger on the nurses, and the nurses who lasted on the ward learned to respond without rancor or condescension. The long shifts, especially the sleepless overnights, created an intimacy among nurse, parent, and child that no one else could share--certainly not the doctors and social workers, who were mere transients by comparison. The nurses were family. And when it was time for a funeral, the nurses did what family members do: They showed up, and they mourned. Funerals were part of the ritual of life on the oncology ward, and Lisa Boornazian (she married in 1993) attended her share, in towns all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. One in particular stuck in her mind. It was for a vivacious young woman named Carrie-Anne Carter who was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, during her senior year of high school. She was in treatment for more than a year, and Boornazian grew very close to her family. When the teenager died on February 6, 1995, Boornazian decided to make the two-hour drive from Philadelphia to attend the funeral in a town she had never visited before: Toms River, New Jersey. Although Boornazian had never been to Toms River, she knew the name well. By 1995, everyone who worked on the oncology ward at Children's Hospital knew about Toms River. Many years later, she explained why. "We began to notice that we were getting a lot of kids from the Toms River area" in 1993 and 1994, Boornazian recalled. "It wasn't just me. All of the nurses noticed it." CHOP drew its young cancer patients from a vast geographic area of more than ten million people, and some families would travel even farther--from as far away as South America and the Middle East, if they could afford it. Yet when Boornazian and the other nurses would look at the charts of the two-dozen or so patients admitted to the oncology ward in a typical month, there always seemed to be at least one or two from a town with a year-round population of just eighty thousand people, or from communities nearby. "There was a certain point where, for a couple of months, we would get a new admission from Toms River every week," Boornazian said. It became a source of dark humor on the ward, with the nurses regularly asking one another: "I wonder when our next patient from Toms River is coming in?" The doctors ignored the chatter. Boornazian raised the issue a few times with physicians she knew well. "I would ask them, 'Have you noticed this? Do you think there's something going on in Toms River?' " The doctors all told her the same thing: no. They said it in various ways, and with inflections that ranged from respectful to patronizing, but the core message never varied. "The general sentiment from the doctors was that it was just a coincidence, and that we shouldn't worry about it," Boornazian recalled. She did not take offense. The physicians ruled the hospital, and CHOP was not just any hospital. It was the oldest and most prestigious children's hospital in the United States, regularly finishing at the top of national rankings for pediatric care. How could the doctors be expected to pay attention to something as trivial as a home address? They were far too busy to get to know the families the way the nurses did. "The doctors rotate in and out, and I don't think they really realized how many patients there were who were from the Toms River area," Boornazian said. "It's the nurses who are there day in and day out, year after year. To us, it looked like a very unusual number of patients." When Boornazian told other nurses on the ward that she was planning to drive to Toms River for Carrie-Anne Carter's funeral, they responded with wisecracks that were only half in jest. "People said, 'Oh, don't drink the water when you're there, and don't breathe too deeply,' " Boornazian remembered. From conversations with the Carters and other Toms River families, she had heard a little bit about the Ciba-Geigy chemical plant and its history of pollution. So she was a bit unnerved when, while driving to the funeral, she looked to her left at a stoplight on Route 37 and saw the fence and security gate of the sprawling factory complex. "I remember driving by and thinking, 'That's the plant that everyone talks about.' " For days afterward, she could not stop thinking about that big factory in the woods and about all the local families she had met in the oncology ward. Lisa Boornazian was not a boat-rocker. In 1995, she was a twenty-four-year-old who loved her job and respected the hierarchy of the hospital. The doctors had told her it was just a coincidence that so many children on the ward were from Toms River, and she was inclined to take their word for it. They were very good doctors, and they gave their patients excellent medical care, even if they were too busy to get to know them. But she could not shake her uneasy feeling that the doctors might be wrong about Toms River. She and her husband, Adam, came from large families and often got together on weekends with their siblings, many of whom still lived in the Philadelphia area. They were especially close to Adam's sister, Laura Janson, and her husband, Eric. A few weeks after Carrie-Anne Carter's funeral in Toms River in February of 1995, the two couples were having dinner on a Friday night, and somehow the conversation turned to the funeral and to Boornazian's worries about Toms River. The discussion was not something that she had planned. "It just sort of happened by accident," she would remember much later. In their extended family, Laura Janson was an authority figure on environmental matters. She worked in the Philadelphia regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she specialized in technical assessments of hazardous waste sites, though she had never worked on any in Toms River. After eleven years at the EPA, Janson was a bit jaded about information that came in from the public because it usually turned out to be confused, poorly documented, or otherwise unreliable. But this was different. Her sister-in-law was not an alarmist; she was a medical professional at a major hospital where thousands of children were treated every year. At dinner, when Boornazian started talking about all the sick children she had treated from Toms River, Janson listened. When Boornazian asked her to check to see if anyone at the EPA was looking into the issue, she agreed. Janson would later explain her decision this way: "When you work at EPA, people are always saying something's wrong with their water, but if it's your sister-in-law talking, and she's a nurse at CHOP who has made actual observations of cancer in children, you figure you'd better follow up." Janson checked and learned that there were two Superfund sites in Toms River and that neither had been the subject of an EPA health study. Was the agency considering launching such a study in Toms River? No, it was not, she was told. So Janson decided to call another federal agency, one that few members of the public had ever heard of. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was, and still is, a backwater in the federal environmental bureaucracy. Congress created it in 1980, when anxiety about hazardous waste was at its zenith, just seven months after the evacuation of Love Canal. The idea was that the EPA would oversee dumpsite cleanups, while the ATSDR would advise the EPA on the health hazards posed by each waste site. But the ATSDR had very little money to do its job, especially as the number of Superfund sites ballooned in the late 1980s. By 1996, the EPA was spending well over one billion dollars per year (about 20 percent of its budget) on Superfund; the entire ATSDR budget, meanwhile, was just $60 million. Steven Jones came to the ATSDR in 1992 from the EPA, where he had worked on Superfund cleanups in the Midwest. His new title, deputy regional director, suggested sweeping authority; the reality was that the ATSDR's regional office, which occupied a small corner of the EPA's space in Manhattan, consisted of just two managers: Jones and his boss. Their main responsibility was to make sure that state and local environmental health agencies were doing the work the short-staffed ATSDR could not do itself. Only rarely did Jones field calls from the public about supposed cancer clusters; when he did, they usually ended in mutual frustration. Like Laura Janson, he had been around long enough to know that ordinary citizens rarely understood what constituted a true cancer cluster. So when Steve Jones's office phone rang one morning in March of 1995 and the woman on the end of the line started talking about a possible cluster in Toms River, New Jersey, there was no reason to think it would be anything more than another dead-end conversation. As Jones listened, though, he heard some things that caught his attention. For starters, the caller was not a typical anxious citizen. Laura Janson introduced herself as an EPA employee, explaining that she was calling unofficially to relay the concerns of an oncology nurse, her sister-in-law, at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Unlike so many callers, Janson was not passing along a vague report in which all of the most common types of adult cancer-- lung, breast, skin, and all the rest-- were lumped together. She spoke instead about much rarer children's cancers, especially brain tumors. "What she was expressing to me was very specific," Jones remembered. "I felt like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't follow up. Someone needed to look at it." Like Lisa Boornazian and Laura Janson, Jones knew almost nothing about the sordid history of chemical pollution in Toms River. Also like the two sisters-in-law, he was neither a rebel nor a starry-eyed idealist, and he was anything but a naive civilian. Jones, Boornazian, and Janson all worked inside sprawling, risk-averse bureaucracies. They had been around long enough to be a tad cynical about the outsiders, the amateurs who were always demanding investigations without knowing the facts. And yet, in this case, all three felt that they could not ignore what they were hearing. The numbers were too high to dismiss as coincidence, and each case represented a face, a child, and a family. Under the circumstances, Steve Jones felt that he could not say no to the EPA employee who called him, just as Laura Janson felt that she could not say no to her sister-in-law, the oncology nurse. As for Lisa Boornazian, she, too, felt that she had no real choice. She had to speak up for the memory of Carrie-Anne Carter and all the other Toms River children who had come through the cancer ward. They deserved an answer. Excerpted from Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

Toms River, NJ, is a small town near the Jersey shore that grew up around chemical industries and the wartime technology boom of World War II. Fagan (journalism, New York Univ.) explores the history of Toms River, and the effects on the town of its proximity to the local chemical plant. While he details the history of the town from its founding in the 1800s to now, his account is often muddled by tangential histories, such as a detailed description of the discovery of the vat dyeing process. In particular, Fagin focuses on the extremely high occurrence of childhood cancer in Toms River, which has been linked to the area's air and water pollution. While each piece of the history may be interesting and informative, as a whole, the book does not flow. VERDICT Readers may be bogged down by the minutia of this book, but its detailed text will appeal to in-depth researchers, especially those with a personal connection to the region or familiar with the chemistry detailed herein.-Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen, Oregon Inst. of Technology, Portland (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Review

Most people know Toms River, N.J., as one of the areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. But Fagin, an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University, reveals an earlier, less conspicuous disaster in the region. In a well-documented expose of toxic industrial plants, corporate greed, and government neglect, Fagin (Toxic Deception, coauthor) plays detective to reveal the excessive human cost of chemical manufacturing hubs in the Jersey pinelands. Fagin focuses his research on cancer hot spots and how they affect the development of local children, but he also delves deeper into the region's tragic history by tracing the arrival of chemical plants in the early 1950s and chronicling the massive contamination of waterways, soil, and air that followed shortly thereafter. Determined to reclaim their health and lives, the residents waged a long legal campaign, which resulted in a pioneering government study, the revelation of an extensive cancer zone, and a settlement of over $35 million. A crisp, hard-nosed probe into corporate arrogance and the power of public resistance makes this environmental caper essential reading. Map. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

What was in the water in Toms River? A seemingly high number of childhood cancer cases in the New Jersey town prompted the question, but there turned out to be no easy answer. As Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010) investigated the tragic impact that unethical scientific pursuits had on a family, Toms River unravels the careless environmental practices that damaged a community. The book goes beyond the Toms River phenomenon itself to examine the many factors that came together in that one spot, from the birth of the synthetic chemical industry to the evolution of epidemiology to the physicians who invented occupational medicine. Former Newsday environmental journalist Fagin's work may not be quite as riveting in its particulars as Skloot's book, but it features jaw-dropping accounts of senseless waste-disposal practices set against the inspiring saga of the families who stood up to the enormous Toms River chemical plant. The fate of the town, we learn, revolves around the science that cost its residents so much.--Thoreson, Bridget Copyright 2010 Booklist

Kirkus Book Review

An award-winning science journalist exposes how corporate interests and corrupt politicians almost turned a quiet, suburban New Jersey beach community into a toxic wasteland. Former Newsday reporter Fagin (Journalism/New York Univ.; co-author: Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law and Endangers Your Health, 1999) reveals the complex motives that blinded residents of Toms River to the consequences of the practices of the town's major employer, Ciba-Geigy, a chemical company based in Switzerland that produced dyes from coal tar. Since the early 1950s, the corporation "had produced about three billion pounds of dyes and plastics--along with perhaps forty billion gallons of wastewater and two hundred thousand drums of toxic waste," which ultimately found its way into their drinking water. In 1986, after mounting pressure from environmentalists resulted in some remediation, Ciba-Geigy announced the plant's imminent closure. They would be moving their operations to lower-wage areas with less regulation (in the U.S. and overseas to Asia). Despite increased environmental awareness over the years, the union (supported by residents who feared the loss of the high wages paid by the corporation) was complicit in a coverup of the extent of the contamination. While some people relied on backyard wells, the major drinking-water supplier in the town also had a vested interest in the coverup, and tourism was an economic consideration. Eventually, truth prevailed as parents became concerned by the number of children afflicted with cancer, and activists were supported by the local newspaper. A 2001 legal settlement was "one of the largest payouts ever, in a toxic-exposure case." Fagin weaves fascinating background material on epidemiology, statistical analysis and more into this hard-hitting chronicle. A gripping environmental thriller.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.