Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

Title:  Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
Author:  Dan Fagin
Publication Information:  Bantam. 2013. 560 pages.
ISBN:  055380653X / 978-0553806533

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "So, what was it, really? Was the Toms River childhood cancer cluster a mirage, an aberration, or a warning? Was it a consequence of nothing but a stunningly bad run of luck, like rolling snake eyes six times in a row? Or was it the product of pollution so horrendous and government neglect so extreme that the combination has never been replicated anywhere but Woburn?"

Toms Rivers is a lovely town on the New Jersey shore on the east coast of the United States. The town has been in existence since 1768. It has been featured in many TV shows and  movies.

Yet in the 1990s, it made the news for an entirely different reason. It was cited in studies by environmental agencies as having an unusually high incidence of childhood cancers - a cancer cluster. Investigations identified the possible cause as contamination from the chemical plant that had existed there since the 1950s. At that point, the plant was run by Ciba-Geigy. The area had been a Environmental Protection Agency clean up site since the 1980s.

This pollution and its devastating results led to a long, protracted battle for justice for those families impacted. The led to a multi-million dollar settlement for some of the families. Some others continue to pursue a class action suit. However, as one family member states, "The numbers do not reflect, in any way, what the families and the children went through."

This book tells the story of this cancer cluster - from the history of the plant and its chemical processes, to descriptions of the scientific studies to investigate the cancer cluster; from the personal stories of the families impacted to the corporate structures of the companies involved. Interestingly, the book ends with a question because the study of cancer is one of uncertainty and conjecture.

The book is very detailed and very technical. At almost 600 pages, it is not an easy read. It is not meant to be. It is meant to be a record of research and investigation. The target audience is not the casual reader. It is, however, of considerable interest to those with an interest in New Jersey and the surrounding areas and to those with an interest in cancer cluster research and to those with an interest in corporate and government responsibility.

It took a while for me to get through this book. I found myself supplementing the book by looking up the numerous articles printed on the issues throughout the years. It was interesting to read the book as a perspective looking back as compared to articles written at the time. It was not easy, but I am glad I did get through it.

The narrative asks, "Could it happen in my town, too?" A scary thought. I hope not, not ever and not anywhere.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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