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Many severe and debilitating forms of environmental contamination are undetectable, even as insidious poisons destroy ecosystems and lives. Once verified, pollution is still difficult to combat, as the authors of these alarming exposés attest. In some cases, corporations and governmental entities collude in denials and cover-ups; in others, citizens themselves are reluctant to confront companies, fearful of losing jobs. And there are always new threats: watch for stories to develop about the natural gas boom and fracking, as well as tar sands and the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. Electric with passion, vivid detail, and startling insights, these hard-driving investigations end on a note of hope as whistle-blowers, activists, and EPA heroes triumph, understanding dawns, and attitudes change.
An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National Scandal, by Andrew Schneider and David McCumber
Vermiculite is used in construction materials, insulation, and gardening, and by some bad luck, as journalists Schneider and McCumber discovered, the vermiculite found in Libby is contaminated with tremolite, a particularly lethal form of asbestos. Miners and their families were dying as vermiculite dust coated the entire town, and the companies Zonolite and W. R. Grace assured everyone it was harmless. This is a tale of corporate cynicism and government corruption countered by an inquisitive reporter, a committed community activist, and an EPA worker who fought his own agency to do what was right.
Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, by David Kirby
Best-selling eco-investigator Kirby profiles three individuals whose homes and lives have been fouled by the stench, mess, contamination, and health risks of factory farms. Rick Dove, a Marine Corps prosecutor, retired early to enjoy the Neuse River near his North Carolinia home but instead became a devoted “riverkeeper” after witnessing massive fish kills caused by pig-factory waste. In beautiful Yakima Valley, Washington, Helen Reddout and her husband joyfully tended their fruit orchards until a megadairy poisoned their property. The same thing happened to farmer Karen Hudson in Elmwood, Illinois. Thanks to Kirby’s extraordinary journalism, we have relatable, irrefutable, and unforgettable testimony to the hazards of industrial animal farming.
Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, by Kristen Iversen
The Iversens lived in Colorado near Rocky Flats, a plant they and their equally trusting neighbors believed produced cleaning products. In fact, it was a criminally mismanaged federal nuclear-weaponry factory that manufactured, between 1952 and 1989, 70,000 plutonium “triggers” for atomic bombs, each containing “enough breathable particles of plutonium to kill every person on earth.” Iversen, who briefly worked at Rocky Flats, tells the entire shocking story of egregious safety violations and unjust legal maneuvering, including heroic whistle-blowers, protestors, and the attorney who took the people’s case to court.
Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas
Klucas has assembled a complex, rich history of the Rocky Mountain town of Leadville, Colorado, once home to Guggenheims and Rockefellers, and built atop mining waste spanning 16 square miles. After a 1983 toxic flood flowed into the Arkansas River, one rancher, long affected by mining poisons, alerted various government agencies and news media, triggering a decades-long battle between the mining companies, the EPA, and Leadville citizens. Leadville became an official Superfund site, but its citizens fought off government “outsiders,” until the mines finally closed, and the town embarked on a remarkable turnabout.
Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie
The message of this scary book is that everyday objects emit toxic chemicals which we absorb into our bodies. The innocuous rubber duck, for example, serves up a poison soup of phthalates. Other products and foods deliver a collection of chemicals shorthanded as PFCs, PFOAs, PSOSs, and PCBs. None of them are good, and they are everywhere, thanks to Teflon, Stainmaster, nonflammable pajamas, tuna, and, irony of ironies, antibacterial products.
Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town, by Kelly McMasters
McMasters’s peripatetic family finally settled down in scrappy, blue-collar Shirley, Long Island, on the edge of a wildlife preserve in the early 1980s. But all was not well at nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory. Journalist McMasters chronicles with precision and venom the misdeeds of the town’s founder, William Turnbull Shirley, and indicts Brookhaven, a flawed nuclear facility and “one of the nation’s most hazardous waste offenders,” for allowing tritium and other radioactive substances to fatally contaminate the area’s groundwater and soil. So high were the subsequent cancer rates in Shirley, a street was dubbed Death Row.
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