Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

by Dan Fagin
3.8 12

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Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • Winner of The New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award • “A new classic of science reporting.”—The New York Times

The riveting true story 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.


“A thrilling journey full of twists and turns, Toms River is essential reading for our times. Dan Fagin handles topics of great complexity with the dexterity of a scholar, the honesty of a journalist, and the dramatic skill of a novelist.”—Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Emperor of All Maladies
“A complex tale of powerful industry, local politics, water rights, epidemiology, public health and cancer in a gripping, page-turning environmental thriller.”—NPR

“Unstoppable reading.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Meticulously researched and compellingly recounted . . . It’s every bit as important—and as well-written—as A Civil Action and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”The Star-Ledger
“Fascinating . . . a gripping environmental thriller.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An honest, thoroughly researched, intelligently written book.”Slate
“[A] hard-hitting account . . . a triumph.”Nature
“Absorbing and thoughtful.”USA Today

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345538611
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/19/2013
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 22,444
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Dan Fagin is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. For fifteen years, he was the environmental writer at Newsday, where he was twice a principal member of reporting teams that were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. His articles on cancer epidemiology were recognized with the Science Journalism Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Science in Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers.

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Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
TheLiteracyCookbook More than 1 year ago
If you have never heard of Toms River, New Jersey, then Dan Fagin’s new book, subtitled A Story of Science and Salvation, might seem like just another a riveting narrative—in this case, about how a town’s water supply became contaminated and what happened as a result.  Indeed, it can stand alone as a compelling page-turner. But if you know Toms River, if you have lived there or have friends from there, then you know about the cancer cluster.  You know about Ciba-Geigy, the chemical company that dumped toxic waste into the river and polluted the wells.  You know about Union Carbide and the illegally-dumped drums that also polluted the water.  And you definitely know about the children who got sick and died.  You probably know some adults there who got cancer, too.  When you read this book, it will bring back everything you know—everything you heard and read in the newspaper over the years—and it will remind you of the relentless awfulness of that story. As dreadful as the story is, Dan Fagin tells it well: his writing is clear, cogent, and quick.  Although he occasionally gets a little into the weeds with scientific details, his comprehensive explanation of what happened in Toms River from the early 1960s forward answers many, many questions that as far as I know (and I grew up near there) were never previously answered.  So the book is both disturbing and satisfying. It is also alarming because it reminds us of how vulnerable we are.  Reading about the prevalence of illegal dumping in the Pine Barrens, I suddenly remembered how the water fountains in my high school used to taste like paint thinner.  And that made me think about all of the teachers who have since acquired cancer.  A mystery yet unsolved. I am thankful to Dan Fagin for writing this book.  I hope it will spur more research and action to protect our health.  Reviewed by Sarah Tantillo at ONLY GOOD BOOKS Blog.
Adina_Rachel More than 1 year ago
My child died from a brain tumor. We were a CHOP family from Toms River, NJ.  I never knew who the nurse was, or how they got the State of NJ to listen.  Thank you all for standing up for over 250 children and families devastated by childhood cancer in Toms River.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book was fascinating - sometimes overwhelmed with technical language. I was a resident of Toms River at time book details. Book details nightmares of difficulty in preventing such happenings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My parents visited Toms River in 1956, and made the transplant in 1958. I first hand witnessed many if not all of Dan Fagin's accounts. My father was given a permit to build a non conforming house only because Dover wanted the ratable. I saw where The First National Bank of Toms River had lots of money to loan on a promise....... As a child where the Bus station ended was a beach, I swam there. In 1965 I remember the beach closing's because of the depleted oxygen in the water. Dan did not mention reported accounts where husbands came home from work, and left colored non removable body impressions on bed sheeting from the dyes that remained on there skin. Nor did he mention the iridescent stains that would be on the windows of folks who lived south east off Silver Ridge Road. My dad had what he thought was secure stock with Toms River First National Bank... And he lost it all in 1974...... The book put these any many other accounts in perspective for me as I lived through the Ciba days. What a smart company, the country club, the hospital, the schools the yacht club, the water testing facilities, the water company , What a Great Book ! ! !
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
With the water situation in Detroit, this book is so relevant. Tom's River, a seaside town in New Jersey, became the dumping ground for the local manufacturing plants. Over the course of several decades, the land and the water became so polluted the local residents and children started becoming sick. What followed was decades of testing and litigation. What resulted was the largest environmental settlements of all time. I loved that the author took us on a 60 year journey giving us all the moving parts. Yes, it's a lengthy, book that gets quite technical in places, but every page is filled with meaning. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is that I felt the book was in need of a good editor. There were some parts of the book that detracted from the overall feel by going off on an unnecessary tangent. But overall, the book was so engaging that I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
The Niagara Falls area where I grew up was a hotbed for chemical plants. Part of that was due to its location near a natural feature that permitted the generation of large quantities of electricity. Another large component was the willingness of local government to be cooperative with the companies to keep their tax-generating, job-creating presence around and happy. Eventually, it came out that this had unforeseen consequences, as demonstrated by the health issues and lawsuits centered around the Love Canal area of the city. Niagara Falls wasn't the only area of the country – or the world – that dealt with this kind of conflict. Dan Fagin zooms in on another part of the US that discovered an unforeseen down side of the business of chemical manufacturing – Toms River, New Jersey. “Toms River” is an in-depth examination of a community rocked by health issues; cancers that circumstances point to the local dye manufacturing plant and its waste by-products as the cause. Pediatric oncologists in New York City automatically suspect that new patients come from or near Toms River. Local residents wrestle with their economic reality of needing to work, needing a tax base – and needing their children to live into their 20s. Author Dan Fagin provides an incredibly well-researched narrative, with little side-trips interspersed throughout to review corporate history of chemical dumping, mathematical research into the probability of cause/effect, and even a look at the aforementioned Love Canal. This book does not flow like a textbook, but rather like a novel … a horror novel, more horrible because it is factual. Highly recommended. DISCLOSURE: This book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher in a random draw. A review request was implied, but not explicitly required. RATING: 5 stars
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TomBritten More than 1 year ago
this for you if you are a green" person tom britten