Reading the Book Toms River

I’m almost finished reading the 2014 Pulitzer-prize winning book Toms River, written by Dan Fagin. My sister and brother in law live in Toms River, and did during the era when Ciba Geigy and other chemical companies were creating industrial pollution at an astonishing level — and dumping it untreated into the ground water and ocean where people swam on the gorgeous Jersey shore beaches. Friend and college classmate Stephanie Wauters lived there too, and was one of the community activists who spearheaded the decades long struggle to identify the cause of a childhood cancer cluster and call the perpetrators to account. Their ultimately successful battle resulted in one of the largest legal and financial settlements in the sorry history of toxic dumping.

This story is about Toms River and its chemical company — but the story has been repeated in many other communities. The town of Kearny, where I grew up, was home to DuPont for many years. DuPont, or “the plant”, as it was known, was a financial anchor for this working class community. Almost every family — ours included — had someone working there. My father worked at DuPont from the time he came east until DuPont moved to the south in the late 1950’s. In the meantime, they dumped lord knows what in the “Kearny meadows”, a swampy area between our town and New York. We used to joke about the funny colored water with the oily slick on top that oozed sluggishly around the marsh grasses and weeds. A similar scandal to Toms River unfolded at Love Canal, near Niagara Falls. There were chemical plants in Woburn, Mass., and throughout the upper midwest.

Reading the book, and it unfolds like a crime thriller as well as a carefully researched history, I’m mindful of the Trump administration’s sweeping efforts to undo the work of the EPA. Read this book, and weep at the ignorant and wrecking-ball policies that will continue even though Scott Pruitt is gone.

Highly recommend Toms River — a great and sobering read, and highly relevant.

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