Years ago I drove my son Daniel to play ice hockey in Toms River, New Jersey. It was there I first encountered the famous “hockey parent” – grown-ups clanging cowbells and unleashing barrages of epithets at the other team. By the second period both sets of parents were howling insults across the rink. Daniel was eleven. Dan Fagin presents the town in a different light. Toms River, A Story of Science and Salvation is a parable of big industry running roughshod over a small American community. In 1949 Ciba, the giant Swiss chemical company, bought 1350 acres of forest and farmland in Toms River and built a dye manufacturing plant. “Dye manufacture had always been a waste-intensive business,” writes Fagin, noting that “the dye would leave Toms River, but the waste would stay.” At first Ciba buried its waste on the property, which became an early Superfund site. Later the company dumped directly into the river, and when that was thoroughly polluted, Ciba built a pipeline from the plant straight to the ocean. When parents raised alarms about a childhood cancer cluster, the company strong-armed local officials, threatened to relocate its jobs, claimed its chemicals were trade secrets, and emitted black smoke only at night.
Eventually, the company left New Jersey for the lower wages and more relaxed regulations in the South, and ultimately for Asia, where China “is now the largest producer and consumer of the world’s most heavily used toxic chemicals.” The dye, the jobs, the pollution had left, but the waste stayed in Toms River.