The riveting true story of sixty years in the life 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.
In an age when thorough investigative reporting is becoming increasingly rare, Dan Fagin's work demonstrates how journalism can bring clarity to the past and also better the present day. (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).
A crisp, hard-nosed probe into corporate arrogance and the power of public resistance makes this environmental caper essential reading.
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.
Starred Review. Fagin weaves fascinating background material on epidemiology, statistical analysis and more into this hard-hitting chronicle. A gripping environmental thriller.
Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and Parasite Rex Toms River is an epic tale for our chemical age. Dan Fagin has combined deep reporting with masterful storytelling to recount an extraordinary battle over cancer and pollution in a New Jersey town.
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe
At once intimate and objective, Toms River is the heartbreaking account of one town's struggle with a legacy of toxic pollution. Dan Fagin has written a powerful and important book.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
A thrilling journey through the twists and turns of cancer epidemiology, Toms River is essential reading for our times. Dan Fagin takes us on a breathtaking tour through a wide terrain of topics - cancer, the environment, carcinogenesis and prevention - yet manages to keep us engaged with deeply personal stories. He handles topics of great complexity with the dexterity of a scholar, the honesty of a journalist, and the dramatic skill of a novelist.
As Fagin shows readers through the specific events in Toms River, environmental and ecological concerns began to receive attention in American politics in the 1960s and 1970s. The creation of the Department of Environmental Protection (now the Environmental Protection Agency) was heavily encouraged, in part, by individuals across America who, like the residents of Toms River, feared for the well-being of their region and themselves.
Investigative journalists played a significant role in spearheading the movement by reporting on the dangers of environmental toxins, deforestation, nuclear testing, and other ecological damage. Most notable among literary works was the 1962 Silent Spring, an exposé by marine biologist Rachel Carson. Her exploration of the negative effects of pesticides was one...
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