Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town's Toxic Legacy

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

People magazine

"A chilling indictment of how government and big business prized profits over health and a moving tale of one woman's struggle to understand why."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Presents convincing proof that Waukegan and Lake Michigan are prime suspects in the sisters' cancers."

Pittsburgh City Paper

"In Lake Effect, Nichols, now 49, weaves her investigations of Waukegan's pollution and the causes of cancer with her own story of diagnosis and treatment. It's a thoughtful examination of the risks faced by bodies made by nature in a world fabricated by technology."

EnviroBlog

"...Eloquent indictment of decades of corporate carelessness, official inaction and American society’s reflexive focus on searching for a cure instead of a cause."

co-author of Our Stolen Future
"Powerful. Intense. Compelling. With spare, elegant prose. poignant yet scientifically accurate, Nancy Nichols weaves a personal story into a universal tragedy, about toxic waste, careless industry, and human suffering."

— Pete Myers

biologist and author of Living Downstream - Sandra Steingraber

"I read this book like a desert hiker drinks water--in great, thankful gulps. It's a scientific investigation of the most intimate sort. It's a family memoir with public policy implications. ‘Stories matter,’ says Nancy Nichols. And then she proves it."

director, Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh - Devra Davis

“A stunning, haunting, exquisite memoir. As a scientist, I’m dumbstruck. As a human being, I’m appalled.”
author of Ordinary Life and Illness and the Limits of Expression - Kathlyn Conway

“In Lake Effect Nancy Nichols beautifully weaves together the story of her sister's death and her own ill health with the equally compelling story of her hometown of Waukegan on Lake Michigan’s shores. Her quest to make sense of her family’s devastating illnesses and the region’s toxic chemicals is clear-eyed, eloquent, and revealing.”
co-author of Our Stolen Future - Pete Myers

“Powerful. Intense. Compelling. With spare, elegant prose… poignant yet scientifically accurate, Nancy Nichols weaves a personal story into a universal tragedy, about toxic waste, careless industry, and human suffering.”
EnviroBlog
"...Eloquent indictment of decades of corporate carelessness, official inaction and American society's reflexive focus on searching for a cure instead of a cause."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Presents convincing proof that Waukegan and Lake Michigan are prime suspects in the sisters'' cancers."
People magazine
"A chilling indictment of how government and big business prized profits over health and a moving tale of one woman''s struggle to understand why."
Pittsburgh City Paper
"In Lake Effect, Nichols, now 49, weaves her investigations of Waukegan''s pollution and the causes of cancer with her own story of diagnosis and treatment. It''s a thoughtful examination of the risks faced by bodies made by nature in a world fabricated by technology."
EnviroBlog

"...Eloquent indictment of decades of corporate carelessness, official inaction and American society’s reflexive focus on searching for a cure instead of a cause."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597260848
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 8/27/2008
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy A. Nichols is a journalist, editor, and broadcaster whose writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Book Review, The Harvard Business Review, and The Nation, among other publications.

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Table of Contents


The Used-Car Salesman's Daughters     1
Green Town     11
Coho Capital of the World     19
The False Center of the Collage     27
Lake Michigan Legacy     35
A Marked Woman     53
Miasma     63
Hitchhiking Hormones     73
Me Too     85
Destiny     99
Why Ask Why?     111
Proof     123
Epilogue     135
Acknowledgments     141
Notes     145
Selected Bibliography     163
Index     171
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 9, 2009

    Waukegan, IL - My Hometown

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Compelling Memoir and Environmental History of Waukegan Harbor

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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