Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation

CURE, Fall 2014, Volume 13, Issue 3

Tom's River tells the tale of what happens when a chemical company with irresponsible waste disposal practices sets up shop in a quiet seaside town in New Jersey.

In Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation, author Dan Fagin tells the true tale of what happens when large chemical companies with dubious waste disposal practices set up shop in a quiet seaside town in New Jersey. In a nutshell—a troubling number of cancer cases occurring in very young children living in the area. But, as this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book details, the existence of childhood cancer clusters are difficult to prove and drawing a scientific connection between environmental contaminants and cancer is almost impossible, and even less likely when cancer registries are poorly kept and public officials are reluctant to draw negative attention to their tourism-driven town.

In this case, which ultimately resulted in one of the largest settlements surrounding toxic dumping in U.S. history, numerous people had to surface at precisely the right moment: a perceptive nurse in the oncology ward at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who began noticing that an unusually high number of kids on her floor hailed from the same south Jersey town; a persistent research scientist for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection who worked nights and weekends identifying mysterious pollutants in the Toms River water supply; a tenacious, outspoken mom whose son developed neuroblastoma at the tender age of three months. In this town, heroes come in the form of chemists, parents and advocates, and remarkably, triumph over large corporations and government agencies guilty of both negligent and criminal behaviors.

Fagin’s in depth reporting and engaging storytelling delves into complex issues, including the epidemiology of cancer, as well as heartbreaking accounts as told to him by parents who lost children to cancer and childhood cancer survivors themselves, some of whom still struggle with the disease. This absorbing book will appeal to many people for many reasons. We highly recommend it.