javascript:; Recommended Summer Read: Toms River | Coal Tar Free America

Last weekend, my wife and I did a 2,000 mile drive for a wedding. With a hectic schedule leading up to our departure, I quickly downloaded a few audio books from our public library to help the miles go by. I covered the usual genres that we enjoy listening together: historical fiction, cultural commentary, and environmental issues.

My wife didn't believe that the download of Toms River was as accidental as I said, especially when the detailed description of the chemistry of coal tar was discussed! Needless to say the early portions of the book reminded her a little too much of conversations she has endured over the last 9 years; so I found myself stealing the listening via earbud while she was sleeping like stolen fruit.

My perspective on the book is that it is more of a bridge book that a river book. The author, Dan Fagin, builds a bridge of sorts to the misunderstood worlds of corporate decision-making, environmental science, human misery, organic chemistry, government ineptitude, statistics and epidemiology. No one of us firmly stands in any of those worlds, so Fagin draws us in as a storyteller and a scholar.

The story focuses on the events surrounding an infamous chemical plant in Toms River, New Jersey and the subsequent effects on the environment and the community.

What does that have to do with the pollution from coal tar pavement sealers? More than you can imagine. Industry denial, a slumbering populus, lemming-like labor, and convenient political avoidance come to mind. In contrast, though, you see the statistical difficulty of proving a cancer cluster in a finite geographical area. Some have begun to try to do the same with coal tar sealer in the US in regions where it is used more prominently. Personally I'm not equipped for that kind of statistical gymnastics.

Upon returning home I was pleased to read dozens of positive reviews of the book on Amazon as well as learn that it earned the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

In the same manner that Mr. Fagin sees the toxic coal tar dye industry has moved to offshore, the same is true with coal tar sealers with one exception. The byproducts of the dye industry are left to pollute the manufacturing location whereas the main ingredient in coal tar sealer is a toxic waste product which is made overseas and brought ridiculously back to North America.

Anyone wanting to be a force for positive change in this realm would be wise to absorb this book.

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