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On her deathbed, Sue asked her sister for one thing: to write about the connection between the industrial pollution in their hometown and the rare cancer that was killing her. Fulfilling that promise has been Nancy Nichols’ mission for more than a decade.
Lake Effect is the story of her investigation. It reaches back to their childhood in Waukegan, Illinois, an industrial town on Lake Michigan once known for good factory jobs and great fishing. Now Waukegan is famous for its Superfund sites: as one resident put it, asbestos to the north, PCBs to the south.
Drawing on her experience as a journalist, Nichols interviewed dozens of scientists, doctors, and environmentalists to determine if these pollutants could have played a role in her sister’s death. While researching Sue’s cancer, she discovered her own: a vicious though treatable form of pancreatic cancer. Doctors and even family urged her to forget causes and concentrate on cures, but Nichols
knew that it was relentless questioning that had led to her diagnosis. And that it is questioning—by government as well as individuals—that could save other lives.
Lake Effect challenges us to ask why. It is the fulfillment of a sister’s promise. And it is a call to stop the pollution that is endangering the health of all our families.
— Pete Myers
"...Eloquent indictment of decades of corporate carelessness, official inaction and American society’s reflexive focus on searching for a cure instead of a cause."
Posted February 9, 2009
Nancy Nichols has made a wonderful dent into the mystery of what went wrong in Waukegan. I grew up in Waukegan during the 50's and 60's. I loved the town and the lake. Many of my friends/relatives were jealous - beautiful lake, vital downtown, and, of course, "scooping". Things changed in the 70's. The wonderful "green town" that Ray Bradbury wrote about in "Dandelion Wine" was becoming an eyesore. After the industries began leaving and other were investigated, Waukegan was never the same. I would love to read more about the growth and decline of my wonderful hometown.
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Posted May 14, 2010
Nancy Nichols grew up in Waugekan, IL in the 1960s and 1970s, when several factories, including Johns-Manville (asbestos) and Outboard Marine (engine manufacturing, which involved metalworking fluids that included PCBs) were dumping waste directly into Waukegan Harbor. Waukegan is also home to the Yeoman Creek Landfill, which abutted a local farm where her family purchased vegetables. Nancy's sister Sue died of ovarian cancer and Nancy herself is a survivor of pancreatic cancer.
This book, a combination of environmental history, epidemiology, and memoir, tells the story of Waukegan's industrial rise and fall and Nancy's search for answers following her sister's death and her own battle with cancer. Nichols does an excellent job of translating toxicology and environmental science into plain English. The book is compulsively readable and makes a compelling case for the linkage between her cancer and Waukegan's pollution.