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.