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Excerpt from "Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin. Copyright 2013 by Dan Fagin. Reprinted here by permission of Bantan. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from "Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin. Copyright 2013 by Dan Fagin. Reprinted here by permission of Bantan. All rights reserved.

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Excerpt from "Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin. Copyright 2013 by Dan Fagin. Reprinted here by permission of Bantan. All rights reserved.
Excerpt from "Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin. Copyright 2013 by Dan Fagin. Reprinted here by permission of Bantan. All rights reserved.

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Excerpted from TOMS RIVER: A Story of Science and SalvationBy Dan Fagin
It is no small challenge to spend long days and longer nights in a place where children die, butLisa Boornazian
had the knack. She began working at The Children‟s Hospital of Philadelphia in
1991, during the summer of her senior year of nursing school at Villanova University. Thefollowing year she found a home in the cancer ward at CHOP. Back then she was LisaDav
enport, and not much older than some of her patients. “I loved working in oncology. I saw plenty of nurses who came to work at the unit and it wasn‟t what they expected. They justcouldn‟t stay. But I loved it,” she remembered. The ward was a surprisingly
lively place, wherelittle kids dashed down the wide hallways with their wheeled intravenous stands clattering beside
them. The older children, though, were much more difficult to deal with. “The teenagers had a
grasp of death, and what the diagnosis meant
,” Boornazian said. “The younger kids mostly hadno idea.” Those with brain or bone cancers faced long odds. Survival rates were better for 
children with blood cancers, principally leukemia and lymphoma, but their treatments took manymonths and were brutal: chemotherapy, often followed by radiation and bone marrowtransplants.The work shifts on the oncology ward were organized in a way that made it impossible for thenurses to keep an emotional distance from their assigned patients, since the same three or four nurses would take care of a child for months on end. Their relationships with parents wereequally intense. Many parents practically lived in the ward and went home only to shower andchange clothes before rushing back. The nurses worked under the unforgiving gaze of mothersand fathers driven half-mad by lack of sleep and the sight of their children enduring a pitilesscycle of excruciating needle sticks, nausea attacks, and dressing changes. Parents wouldfrequently take out their anger on the nurses, and the nurses who lasted on the ward learned torespond without rancor or condescension. The long shifts, especially the sleepless overnights,created an intimacy among nurse, parent, and child that no one else could share
 — 
certainly notthe doctors and social workers, who were mere transients by comparison. The nurses werefamily. And when it was time for a funeral, the nurses did what family members do: Theyshowed up, and they mourned.Funerals were part of the ritual of life on the oncology ward, and Lisa Boornazian (she marriedin 1993) attended her share, in towns all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. One in particular stuck in her mind. It was for a vivacious young woman named Carrie-Anne Carter who
 
was diagnosed with Ewing‟s sarcoma,
a rare bone cancer, during her senior year of high school.She was in treatment for more than a year, and Boornazian grew very close to her family. Whenthe teenager died on February 6, 1995, Boornazian decided to make the two-hour drive fromPhiladelphia to attend the funeral in a town she had never visited before: Toms River, NewJersey.Although Boornazian had never been to Toms River, she knew the name well. By 1995,
everyone who worked on the oncology ward at Children‟s Hospital knew about Toms Rive
r.
Many years later, she explained why. “We began to notice that we were getting a lot of kids fromthe Toms River area” in 1993 and 1994, Boornazian recalled. “It wasn‟t just me. All of thenurses noticed it.” CHOP drew its young cancer patients from a va
st geographic area of morethan ten million people, and some families would travel even farther 
 — 
from as far away as SouthAmerica and the Middle East, if they could afford it.Yet when Boornazian and the other nurses would look at the charts of the two-dozen or so patients admitted to the oncology ward in a typical month, there always seemed to be at least oneor two from a town with a year-round population of just eighty thousand people, or from
communities nearby. “There was a certain point where, for a c
ouple of months, we would get a
new admission from Toms River every week,” Boornazian said. It became a source of dark humor on the ward, with the nurses regularly asking one another: “I wonder when our next patient from Toms River is coming in?”
 The doctors ignored the chatter. Boornazian raised the issue a few times with physicians she
knew well. “I would ask them, „Have you noticed this? Do you think there‟s something going onin Toms River?‟ ” The doctors all told her the same thing: no. They said it i
n various ways, andwith inflections that ranged from respectful to patronizing, but the core message never varied.
“The general sentiment from the doctors was that it was just a coincidence, and that we shouldn‟tworry about it,” Boornazian recalled. She
did not take offense. The physicians ruled the hospital,
and CHOP was not just any hospital. It was the oldest and most prestigious children‟s hospital in
the United States, regularly finishing at the top of national rankings for pediatric care. How couldthe doctors be expected to pay attention to something as trivial as a home address? They were far 
too busy to get to know the families the way the nurses did. “The doctors rotate in and out, and Idon‟t think they really realized how many patients there we
re who were from the Toms River 
area,” Boornazian said. “It‟s the nurses who are there day in and day out, year after year. To us,it looked like a very unusual number of patients.”
 
 
 When Boornazian told other nurses on the ward that she was planning to drive to Toms River for Carrie-
Anne Carter‟s funeral, they responded with wisecracks that were only half in jest. “Peoplesaid, „Oh, don‟t drink the water when you‟re there, and don‟t breathe too deeply,‟ ” Boornazian
remembered. From conversations with the Carters and other Toms River families, she had hearda little bit about the Ciba-Geigy chemical plant and its history of pollution. So she was a bitunnerved when, while driving to the funeral, she looked to her left at a stoplight on Route 37 andsaw the
fence and security gate of the sprawling factory complex. “I remember driving by andthinking, „That‟s the plant that everyone talks about.‟ ” For days afterward, she could not stop
thinking about that big factory in the woods and about all the local families she had met in theoncology ward.Lisa Boornazian was not a boat-rocker. In 1995, she was a twenty-four-year-old who loved her  job and respected the hierarchy of the hospital. The doctors had told her it was just a coincidencethat so many children on the ward were from Toms River, and she was inclined to take their word for it. They were very good doctors, and they gave their patients excellent medical care,even if they were too busy to get to know them. But she could not shake her uneasy feeling thatthe doctors might be wrong about Toms River.She and her husband, Adam, came from large families and often got together on weekends withtheir siblings, many of whom still lived in the Philadelphia area. They were especially close to
Adam‟s sister, Laur 
a Janson, and her husband, Eric. A few weeks after Carrie-
Anne Carter‟s
funeral in Toms River in February of 1995, the two couples were having dinner on a Friday
night, and somehow the conversation turned to the funeral and to Boornazian‟s worries about
To
ms River. The discussion was not something that she had planned. “It just sort of happened byaccident,” she would remember much later.
 In their extended family, Laura Janson was an authority figure on environmental matters. Sheworked in the Philadelphia regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whereshe specialized in technical assessments of hazardous waste sites, though she had never workedon any in Toms River. After eleven years at the EPA, Janson was a bit jaded about informationthat came in from the public because it usually turned out to be confused, poorly documented, or otherwise unreliable. But this was different. Her sister-in-law was not an alarmist; she was amedical professional at a major hospital where thousands of children were treated every year. At

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