In 1996 I remember reading A Civil Action, about a town in Massachusetts where people fought back against environment pollution. That book freaked me out, and made me conscious of the cavalier way our water supply can so easily be placed at risk by greedy corporations. When I heard about Dan Fagin’s book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation winning the Pulitzer prize with a story about a New Jersey town that was ravaged by astronomical rates of childhood cancer, I was immediately predisposed to LOVE the book, and I was not disappointed.
The book is filled with heart-wrenching personal stories of people whose lives were affected (and often destroyed as a result of the actions of giant chemical companies just dumping unbelievable amounts of toxic waste right into to water supply.
I loved the way Fagin told the history of the companies involved, going back to the origins of dye-making. The companies had basically trashed the environment in Basel, and then moved to Cincinnati, where they got into some trouble for their environmental practices (or lack of them). When these giant companies came to town looking to start up operations, all people could see (or cared to see) were the jobs that would come along. This was one of the biggest dye manufacturing plants in the entire world, and they went on into plastics and other chemical products.
What really knocked me out was the QUANTITY of waste the factories produced…in fact, they produced more waste than product! So they had to put it somewhere, and the story of illegal dumping is a big part of the Toms River saga. People would dump thousands of barrels of waste wherever they could, including a chicken farm.
Speaking on Democracy Now, Dan Fagin said that even though he worked as an environment reporter for more than 25 years, the brazenness of the behavior of the companies involved in this story surprised him. In addition, he marveled at the way people were able to band together to pursue action against the companies involved.
The book is fascinating on several levels: documenting corporate malfeasance, providing a look at the history of chemical production, peeking into the pain suffered by the innocent victims of the illegal dumping, glimpsing the political shenanigans that led to the locating of the plant in the first place, and finally inspiring readers who want to believe that it IS possible to “fight the man” and make corporations at least a tiny bit accountable for the actions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to review this book in return for an unbiased review. Totally five stars!