Solving the Mystery of a Community Riddled with Cancer

Solving the Mystery of a Community Riddled with Cancer

One nurse's concern spurs an investigation into children's health.

By Dan Fagin
Published: 03/21/2013

For starters, the caller was not a typical anxious citizen. Laura Janson introduced herself as an EPA employee, explaining that she was calling unofficially to relay the concerns of an oncology nurse, her sister-in-law, at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Unlike so many callers, Janson was not passing along a vague report in which all of the most common types of adult cancer-- lung, breast, skin, and all the rest-- were lumped together. She spoke instead about much rarer children's cancers, especially brain tumors. "What she was expressing to me was very specific," Jones remembered. "I felt like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't follow up. Someone needed to look at it."

Like Lisa Boornazian and Laura Janson, Jones knew almost nothing about the sordid history of chemical pollution in Toms River. Also like the two sisters-in-law, he was neither a rebel nor a starry-eyed idealist, and he was anything but a naive civilian. Jones, Boornazian, and Janson all worked inside sprawling, risk-averse bureaucracies. They had been around long enough to be a tad cynical about the outsiders, the amateurs who were always demanding investigations without knowing the facts. And yet, in this case, all three felt that they could not ignore what they were hearing. The numbers were too high to dismiss as coincidence, and each case represented a face, a child, and a family.

Under the circumstances, Steve Jones felt that he could not say no to the EPA employee who called him, just as Laura Janson felt that she could not say no to her sister-in-law, the oncology nurse. As for Lisa Boornazian, she, too, felt that she had no real choice. She had to speak up for the memory of Carrie-Anne Carter and all the other Toms River children who had come through the cancer ward. They deserved an answer.

Excerpted from TOMS RIVER: A Story of Science and Salvation Copyright (c) 2013 Dan Fagin. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

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Dan Fagin

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 15 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.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

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