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On her deathbed, Sue asked her sister for one thing: to write about the connection between the industrial pollution in their hometown and the rare cancer that was killing her. Fulfilling that promise has been Nancy Nichols mission for more than a decade. Lake Effect is the story of her investigation. It reaches back to their childhood in Waukegan, Illinois, an industrial town on Lake Michigan once known for good factory jobs and great fishing. Now Waukegan is famous for its Superfund sites: as one resident put it, asbestos to the north, PCBs to the south. Drawing on her experience as a journalist, Nichols interviewed dozens of scientists, doctors, and environmentalists to determine if these pollutants could have played a role in her sister s death. While researching Sue's cancer, she discovered her own: a vicious though treatable form of pancreatic cancer. Doctors and even family urged her to forget causes and concentrate on cures, but Nichols knew that it was relentless questioning that had led to her diagnosis. And that it is questioning by government as well as individuals that could save other lives. Lake Effect challenges us to ask why. It is the fulfillment of a sister s promise. And it is a call to stop the pollution that is endangering the health of all our families.
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Nancy A. Nichols is a journalist, editor, and broadcaster whose writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Book Review, The Harvard Business Review, and The Nation, among other publications.From The Washington Post:
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Nancy Nichols made a deathbed promise to her sister that she would investigate the toxic history of their hometown, Waukegan, Ill., on the shore of Lake Michigan. A small town once known as the "Coho Capital of the World," Waukegan was a bucolic place for the girls to grow up, with happy summer days spent splashing in the lake. That was before the Environmental Protection Agency designated the town as the location of three separate Superfund sites. Beginning in the 1950s, the Outboard Marine Corporation, maker of Evinrude and Johnson boat motors, poured tons of hydraulic fluid containing PCBs into the lake. Other corporations, including the notorious Johns-Manville, which went bankrupt in the 1980s under the weight of liability claims, dumped asbestos and solvents onto fields and beaches where the children of Waukegan played. When Nichols was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer -- eight years after her sister died of ovarian cancer -- the journalist began digging in earnest into the town's toxic legacy and the science of environmental hazards. Part memoir, part investigation, Lake Effect chronicles Nichols's attempts to link the polluted water and soil of Waukegan to her sister's death and her own disease, a difficult task even for a writer better equipped to sift through the arcana of epidemiological research. She makes links that aren't scientifically justified: for instance, between how pollutants known as endocrine disrupters affect wildlife and her own difficulty in having a second child at the age of 40. Despite acknowledging the impossibility of pinning "a particular person's cancer [on] a particular chemical," she then proceeds to spend much of the book trying to do precisely that. Lake Effect is an engaging and generally well-told tale, though it does not succeed in forging a clear link between the author's disease and pollution. Even so, it is hard to believe that Nichols is not at least partly right, that the staggering amount of toxic goo dumped in Waukegan over the span of less than 50 years has surely had an impact on the health of its citizens.
Copyright 2008, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
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