Final Report-KM

What is Justice? The Ongoing Case of New Jersey’s Infamous Toms River Cancer Cluster

By Kenneth Morrissey

Introducing the Toms River Cancer Cluster

            What is justice? And perhaps even more importantly, how can we determine if justice has been served? A traditional legal definition of justice is, “The proper administration of the law; the fair and equitable treatment of all individuals under the law.”[1] This, at least on the surface of it, seems like a good definition of justice. After all, the law, at least the idealized version of it, is supposed to be a set of rules that creates the basis for an equitable society. But as we have learned throughout history, the law often fails to live up to this ideal. In many instances where this occurs, such as the civil rights movement, outside entities decide to try to take justice for themselves or give it to others. Further complicating things, many times those outside forces break the law in their quest for justice. If they achieve a more fair and equitable outcome, is this not justice too? This legal definition of justice is clearly not sufficient enough to accurately describe all situations where justice needs to be served.

            An interesting way to further examine this topic would be to look at the tragic case of Chemical Town, officially known as Toms River, New Jersey. The town got this rather unfortunate nickname because it is home to two environmental disasters, known to the public as the Reich Farms and Ciba-Geigy superfund sites. Although what happened at each of these sites was completely separate from one another, both involved a negligent corporation, Union Carbide with Reich Farms and Ciba-Geigy with their namesake, accidently polluting the town’s drinking water with their toxic chemicals. Both corporations tried to cover up their wrongdoing in the immediate aftermath of their crimes, and were successful for quite a long time. But eventually residents of the town began to notice that an unusually high number of their children began developing cancer. An investigation into their drinking water led them to find out what both corporations were trying to hide for so long. In 2001, a group of 69 parents led by Linda Gillick sued the two corporations, along with United Water, for damages. They eventually settled for a figure that was probably in excess of 35 million dollars, with no one excepting blame for the cancer cluster.[2] Clearly, if an injustice has ever taken place, it has occurred here in Toms River.

            A great deal of scholarship has already been written about the Toms River cancer cluster. Perhaps the most famous of them all is Dan Fagin’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation. Fagin’s book is the most extensive coverage of the Toms River cancer cluster from the founding of the Ciba-Geigy plant in 1952 until the court settlement in 2001. Yet Fagin scholarship largely ends after the court settlement. It seems like most of academia and a large portion of the general public considered this to be a “resolved” issue. But a close examination into the Toms River cancer cluster case reveals this not to be true in the slightest. Many things have happened since the 2001 court case ended, from corporate merges, to scientific studies, to lawsuits, to political battles, to fundraisers, to much, much more in-between. But from a scholarly perspective, it all remains largely untold.

            I aim this piece to be a continuation and an expansion of all of the great work that has come before me. I will update what has happened since the 2001 court case, while examining whether the people affected by the Toms River cancer cluster have ever received true justice. In order to further examine this topic, I will analyze four primary questions over the course of this paper: Why did the initial results of the Toms River cancer cluster lead people to believe that the issue has been completely resolved? What has Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide done in regards to the Toms River since the 2001 court settlement? What could the government, on the local, state, and federal level, have done differently to help the people of Toms River? And how have the people of Toms River been trying to resolve this injustice since 2001? I believe that these questions will help me be able to definitively determine what is justice.

            The question as to whether there has been justice in the Toms River cancer cluster case is very complicated and nuanced, but I firmly believe that justice is in the process of being served. There is no one instance where any one of the victims of the cancer cluster case has definitively weighed in on the topic of justice. However, they all know a lot of work still needs to be done before this case is completely closed. Many of the families who have suffered from the cancer cluster are still looking for answers for the cause of their children’s cancer, struggling with debt due to medical bills, and are worried that another cancer cluster might arise due to lack regulation. They clearly do not have much faith that the government or the corporations that caused the pollution will be solving any of these issues anytime soon. So the families have decided that the only way that any of these issues will be solved is if they do it themselves. Survivors of the cancer cluster have lobbied the government, pestered the corporations, and even formed charitable organizations all in the name of solving these issues. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if activists continue down this path that they have currently forged for themselves, that true justice in the Toms River will eventually be achieved.

The False Appearance of Success

            Some people have made strong arguments in the aftermath of the 2001 court case that the government was successful in its mission to provide justice to the people of Toms River. There are generally two different arguments in support of this conclusion. Both of them can be found in the piece Public Health Partnerships Addressing Childhood Cancer Investigations. This journal article contained a study that tried to determine whether the partnership between the government (local, state, and federal), the people of Toms River, and scientists investigating the cancer was successful. The researchers used a six factor model in order to judge this relationship, which included the government’s willingness to seek out victims, the equitability of the partnership, considering each other’s opinion, defining goals, seeking out opportunities, and assuring the quality of scientific reports. The researchers first argument for why this relationship was successful was that , “…the Dover Township (which is what Toms River used to be called) childhood cancer cluster investigation was exhaustive, comprehensive in nature, and resulted in innovative contributions to fields of environmental health science and public health practice.”[3] It appears that, at least initially, the government was interested in trying to work with the people of Toms River. After all, according to this study, the government launched a very comprehensive investigation into the cancer cluster. Government bureaucrats were able to listen to the people of Toms Rivers’ concerns, fund scientific studies, and look into what both Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide were doing when they polluted Toms River. This all resulted in the state government successfully “punishing” Ciba-Giegy with a 63 million dollar fine in 1992.[4] This, at least on the surface of it, appears to be a just outcome.

            The other argument for why the relationship between the government and the people was a success is because they were able to scientifically prove that there was a direct causal link between the pollutants and leukemia in female children. According to the same study that I cited earlier, “These results are significant because out of hundreds of cancer cluster investigations, only two — Woburn, Massachusetts and Dover Township, New Jersey — have shown an association between environmental exposures and childhood cancer.”[5]  Apparently, it is extremely rare to prove that a pollutant in the environment caused a cancer cluster. Only one other study prior to the one conducted in Toms River had definitively proved the same. The families, therefore, are very lucky that the study conducted in their town proved the cause of some of their children’s cancer. It gave legitimacy to many of their claims and was a big reason why many of the corporations eventually decided to settle with the families in 2001.

            But, unfortunately, this relationship appears to have deteriorated over time. Or at least, the residents of Toms River certainty think that the government is no longer on their side. Linda Gillick wrote in 2013 that, “Our government is under staffed and under regulated.”[6] Many other families who were affected by the Toms River cancer cluster made similar remarks about the government. It is clear from these statements that the families do not think very much of the government’s response to their tragedy. But if the government conducted such an exhaustive investigation into cancer cluster, that supposedly helped punish the corporations and find answers to the cause of some of their children’s cancer, then why would they feel this way?

The answer to this question is because the government has lost interest in the cancer cluster case. The government’s apathy toward the survivors can most clearly be seen at meetings of the Citizens Action Committee on Childhood Cancer Cluster. Near the beginning of the investigation, 40 or more people would attend these meetings, with many of them being governmental officials. Now fewer than a dozen attend, with none of them being representatives from the state or local governments.[7] The government, at least on some levels, appears to no longer be listening to the concerns of the people of Toms River. This, to some extent, is understandable. There have been no major breakthroughs in the cancer cluster case since the lawsuit ended back in 2001. As a result, major news sources do not cover the cancer cluster as much as they did when it was new. The wider public, and thus the politicians that represent them, have moved on to fresher instances of environmental injustice. This has unfortunately left behind the families who are still suffering to from the cancer cluster. It is understandable why the activists feel like their government does not care about them anymore.

            While very helpful to some, the scientific studies into the cause of the cancer cluster did not satisfy all families’ questions. Females with leukemia were only a small number of the many children that suffered from the cancer cluster. One of the more notable and common forms of cancer that others have had to endure is neuroblastoma. An article by medical experts in the Lancet described neuroblastoma as, “…a disease of the sympaticoadrenal lineage of the neural crest, and therefore tumours can develop anywhere in the sympathetic nervous system.”[8] Essentially, neuroblastoma is a disease characterized by tumors growing all over the central nervous system. When this disease develops in children, as it did during the Toms River cancer cluster, it heavily affects their growth and development. The most famous person who suffered from this disease in the cancer cluster was Linda Gillick’s son, Michael. Families who have members who have neuroblastoma are still actively searching for a cause.

            Disappointingly, it does not look like Linda Gillick and other families will receive answers anytime soon. In 2013, Scientists conducted a study to analyze the effects of SAN Trimer (a pollutant found at the Reich Farm site) on rats, with the intention of discovering if it would cause them to develop cancer. Unfortunately, the scientists did not find a direct link between the substance and cancer.[9] Families, however, were not satisfied with their findings. They claimed that scientist did not study SAN Trimer under the same conditions that their children were exposed to it all those years ago. The EPA, which was involved in the study, claimed that the research was done well. This led Linda Gillick to exclaim, “We (the activists) are citizens who are bucking industry and government. And guess what…We are not backing down.”[10] From this quote, we can tell that the people of Toms River think that the government are not conducting these newer studies into the cancer cluster correctly. The cooperation that once existed between the government, people, and scientists is clearly gone. Due to the government now not listening to the people, the government are conducting scientific studies that do not accurately address their concerns. Until this changes, families will probably never find the true cause of their cancer.

Corporate Recovery

            Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide never cared about the people of Toms River in the slightest. When the 69 families reached a settlement with the polluting corporations, their lawyers told them that, “Money was the way that corporations apologized…” [11] But this appears to be a mistruth that lawyers told the families to make them feel better about the settlement. The easiest way to know these companies’ true intensions is to look at what they did and did not do between the years 1965 and 2001. When Ciba-Gigey first found out that they were polluting Toms River’s drinking water in the summer of 1965, they could have built a sewage treatment plant to dilute the pollution released from their factory. Instead, the corporation choose the much cheaper option of building a pipeline from their factory to the Atlantic Ocean. When Union Carbide found out that Nick Fernicola was improperly dumping their pollution at Reich Farms, they could have personally paid to clean up and test the ground water at the wells that they infected. Instead, they too decided to do the cheap option of bulldozing over polluted trenches with dirt.[12] Finally, when both of these corporations wrongdoing were out in the open during the late 1990s and early 2000s, they could have admitted that had committed their crimes and offered just recompense to every family affected by them. Instead, they once again choose the cheapest option possible by denying that they ever did anything wrong. Only when they thought that there was a significant chance that they might lose the case did they offer a settlement to the families.[13] It is clear that throughout this entire fiasco, the only thing that Ciba-Gigey and Union Carbide cared about was saving money.

            Despite technically not being the companies who polluted Toms River, Dow Chemical and BASF deserve just as much blame for the cancer cluster as Union Carbide or Ciba-Geigy. Union Carbide “merged” with Dow Chemical in 2001, for around 7.3 billion dollars.[14] Meanwhile, BASF acquired Ciba-Geigy in 2008, for just about 5.5 billion dollars.[15] This shows, for one, that the cancer cluster lawsuits did not dramatically affect any of owners of Union Carbide or Ciba-Geigy, as all of the major stockholders in both corporations got a pretty nice payoff from these sales. But it also seemingly stands to reason that these new corporations should not receive any blame for what Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide did in the past. After all, neither BASF nor Dow Chemical had anything to do with what the executives of Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide decided to do in the 1960s and 70s. As the old saying goes, “The sins of the father should not befall the son.” But what this argument fails to acknowledge is, despite what former Republican Nominee Mitt Romney claimed during his 2012 campaign for president, corporations are not people. One of the many reasons why this is true, is because unlike a corporation, a person cannot legally or physically merge with another person. When a corporation does merge with another corporation, they inherit everything from that other corporation, both good and bad. BASF and Dow Chemical are now just as responsible for the cancer cluster and all that went with it as their two predecessor corporations.

            Case in point, BASF was able to directly benefit from decisions that were made prior to their ownership of Ciba-Geigy. In 2017, BASF sued the Town of Toms River in New Jersey Tax Court for taxes that they felt they were unjustly charged between the years 2004-2017. They claimed that the Ciba-Geigy property, which they now owned, was too polluted to be developed, and thus had been overvalued by the town for property tax purposes. The Tax Court of New Jersey ruled in their favor on February 19th, 2019.[16] It would later be determined that the town of Toms River had to pay to 20 million dollars in tax revenue to BASF.[17]Here, we see an instance of BASF benefitting from the decisions of their predecessor company, Ciba-Geigy. It stands to reasons that if BASF can benefit from the pollution of the Toms River Cancer cluster, which they technically played no part in, then they should also have to deal with all of the negative consequences that come along with it. Whether they realized it or not when they bought Ciba-Geigy, BASF now has a responsibility to the people of Toms River.

            The implications of the Toms River vs BASF court case are unbelievably disastrous for the pursuit of justice for the victims of the cancer cluster. What happened in this lawsuit in simple terms is that BASF/Ciba-Geigy polluted their own land to save money, and then sued the Town of Toms River claiming that their land was too polluted to develop. BASF was essentially able to make a very large chunk of money from poisoning the town’s drinking water and giving cancer to their children. Perhaps worse yet, the people who they poisoned and gave cancer to were the ones that had to pay them that money. Ciba-Geigy only had to pay for a third of the of the 2001 settlement of around 35 million dollars, meaning that in all likelihood the residents of Toms River had to pay BASF more than they paid them in 2001. Although if you factor in the New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection’s lawsuit against them in 1992, where they were forced to pay 63.8 million dollars[18], then Ciba-Geigy/BASF comes out in the red after this whole ordeal. Nevertheless, this situation is not just in the slightest. Justice would have been served if BASF and Dow Chemical were held responsible for all of the pain and suffering that the victims of their crimes were made to endure since their birth. Instead the exact opposite occurred, the people of Toms River were held responsible for BASF’s own mistakes. Not only does this not do anything for the people of Toms River, but it only serves to deepen already existing injustices. Corporations now know that even if they get caught polluting, they will never truly be held to task.

            Fortunately, the government finally sided with the victims of the cancer cluster when Dow Chemical tried to get out of their responsibilities to the people of Toms River. Ever since Dow Chemical was found liable for polluting the drinking water in many of the wells in Toms River, they have been forced by the EPA to pay for testing the water for pollutants. Dow Chemical, wanting again to choose the cheap option, wanted to be pardoned from this responsibility. In 2016, the corporation wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency arguing that they should no longer have to pay for treatments. The corporation’s lawyers argued that the testing that they already done at the site proved that the water no longer contained contaminants. Somewhat surprisingly, the EPA led by the conservative Scott Pruitt did not agree with them. In 2016, the EPA told Dow Chemical that they had to continue to pay for testing.[19] And in 2018, the EPA told them that the area needed at least another 5 years of testing before they could possibly hope to stop paying for treatments.[20] In this instance, the government acted how it should have all throughout the cancer cluster case. Unlike the BASF vs Ciba Geigy Court Case, the government is not letting Dow Chemical off the hook for a problem that was completely of their own doing. The EPA is forcing Dow Chemical to make sure that the drinking water is safe for consumption. If the government had done this in the first place, then the cancer cluster would have never effected the residents of Toms River. This is one of the very few good things that the government has done for the victims of the cancer cluster since the lawsuit ended in 2001.

            But just because Dow Chemical is being held to task at the present moment, does not necessarily mean that it will continue to do so in the future. After all, this whole incident started in the first place because the government did not properly regulate Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide. It seems only logical that the government could once again overlook something and let Dow Chemical off the hook before the water is truly safe. This is especially foreboding when considering that large corporations, such as Dow Chemical, often make “campaign donations” (legalized bribes) to many politicians put in charge of regulating them. In exchange for these “campaign donations,” corporations often “helpfully suggest” (tell) government officials what policies to propose and implement, which just so happen to benefit the corporations that suggested them in the first place. It is perfectly conceivable, perhaps even likely, that Dow Chemical could eventually “helpfully suggest” to one of the politicians that they gave “campaign donations” to that it would “help the country” (Dow Chemical) if they no longer required them to pay for water testing. If this somewhat likely scenario where to occur, then Dow Chemical would truly rid itself of all responsibility for the Toms River cancer cluster, and they could begin to focus on recuperating all of the money they lost because of their wrongdoing, just like BASF did in 2019.

Governmental Failures

            In order to truly understand how the government, on all levels, completely failed the people of Toms River we must ask ourselves, what could the government have done differently to help the people of Toms River? The most obvious, and probably easiest for them to do, would be to listen to victim’s concerns. As I mentioned in previous sections, the government did initially do a good job of listening to the people, which did produce some good results, such as the government funding a study that determined the cause for some people’s cancer. But eventually, less and less governmental officials to attend their meetings.[21] This has made it virtually impossible for the government to know what the activists are currently concerned about. If the government had simply listened to the people of Toms River, then they would be on the same page in regards to the cancer cluster. The people would feel like they are partners with the government, not like neglectful opponents. If there is ever any hope of the people and the government ever working together again, then it starts with both sides listening to one another.

            The government could have prevented the whole Toms River cancer cluster from arising if they had played a more active role in regulating corporation’s pollution. When Ciba-Geigy first came to Toms River, the Governor of New Jersey, a Republican named Alfred E Driscolle, promised to reward them with few government regulations on their business.[22] At the time, Driscolle probably thought that he was ensuring that Ciba-Geigy would stay in the small town and provide jobs to many residents of Toms River for years to come. But in reality, what this did is give license for Ciba-Geigy to pollute the Town of Toms River completely unchecked by the state government. The people of Toms River remained ignorant of what Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide had done to them well into the 1980s.[23]This proves that lasses-faire economics will inevitably lead to environmental ruin. When left to their own devices corporations, such as Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide, will pollute in order to cut costs and increase profits. The only way to ensure that this will not happen is to properly regulate corporations and severely punish those who violate those regulations. If the New Jersey state government had done this when Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide had first came to the state, then the Toms River Cancer Cluster, and all that the suffering and anguishing that came with it, would have probably never occurred in the first place.

            Sadly, it does not appear as if the government has learned that regulations can stop pollution. In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America. Ever since he came to office, he has been trying to reduce the number of environmental regulations placed on businesses.[24] It appears that President Trump has a similar philosophy to that of former Governor of New Jersey Alfred E Driscolle. Trump believes that the environmental regulations hurt the American business ability to create jobs. But just like the former governor, he fails to see that these regulations are necessary to ensure the health of the average person. This could potentially lead to a situation similar to the Toms River cancer cluster arising somewhere in the United States. Joseph Kotran, whose daughter suffers from neuroblastoma because of the cancer cluster, said of Trumps appointees, “They are putting people in charge at the EPA who are really not qualified to protect the environment. They are working to help the companies, and not the people.”[25] It is clear that if we want to prevent further cancer clusters from arising then we must protect the EPA and ensure that current regulations in place do not get repealed. The easiest way to do this is to vote out of office politicians who espouse kind of economic beliefs that led to the Toms River cancer cluster. We cannot forget the important lessons that we have learned about environmental regulations from our past mistakes.   

            Healthcare reform is definitely something that would helped the victims of the Toms River Cancer Cluster. In a country like the United States of America, having cancer can be pretty expensive. People who are diagnosed with cancer have to pay for things such as doctors’ visits, surgery, treatment, care, medicine, and much more. It has been estimated by AARP that the average cost of treating cancer is around 150,000 dollars.[26] It is virtually unthinkable for a lower income person, who already cannot afford insurance, to be able to pay that cost. But even if a person does have insurance when they develop cancer, things will still be tough for them financially. Mesothelioma Center reported that 20 percent of their patients pay over 20,000 dollars per year in out of pocket cost.[27] For the 78 percent of Americans who claim that they are living pay check to pay check[28], such a cost is impossible to pay. In all likelihood, someone who develops cancer, whether they have insurance or not, will come away from it with a lot of financial debt. Although I do not have the numbers for how each of the 69 families individually spent their portion of the 35 million dollar settlement, I would imagine that a lot of it went to paying off debt that they had accumulated from years of taking care of their cancer stricken members. The government could have helped them out, and can help future children who develop cancer, not have this problem with serious healthcare reform.

            The government has attempted to reform its healthcare system since these children developed cancer, but all have been not been sufficient enough to alleviate all of the financial problems that the survivors of the cancer cluster would face over the course of their lives. In 2008, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into Law. The ACA, or Obamacare as it is more commonly referred to by the general public, gave 16 million more Americans healthcare within and protected many from insurance company tactics designed to reduce coverage.[29] Obamacare was undoubtedly helpful to many Americans without healthcare coverage. However, Obamacare did not eliminate co-pays and premiums that traditionally come along with having insurance. Even if a person has Obama Care prior or after developing cancer, it is still possible that they could pay up to 20,000 dollars in co pays. It also does nothing to alleviate already existing medical debt, which almost all cancer survivors certain have to some extent. The only reasonable solution to this healthcare crisis is some sort of debt relief program and a single payer healthcare system. This is the only solution that would guarantee that all Americans would be covered and all existing debt would be forgiven. The survivors of the Toms River Cancer Cluster could have certainly benefited from such a program.

            But justice is not just about correcting past mistakes or putting policies into place to help those affected, it is also about sufficiently punishing those who committed the crime so no one will ever want to do so again. As I previously mentioned, both Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide were punished for polluting Toms River. Ciba-Geigy had to pay a fine of 63 million dollars to the New Jersey State government and Union Carbide still has to pay for testing at the Reich Farms Superfund Site. Some people involved even had to face the prospect of serving significant jail time. Nick Fernicola, the man who improperly disposed of polluted oil drums at the Reich Farms, was arrested when Sam Reich discovered what he was doing to his property.[30] Four Ciba-Geigy officials were charged with illegally dumping toxic waste in 1985.[31] But were all these various punishments fair for the crimes that they committed? It appears that both Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide got off easy compared to what the victims of the cancer cluster had to endure. While some members of Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide did get punished, both corporations got to continue to exist long into the future. Due to their continued survival, the owners of these corporations were eventually able to cash out when they sold their shares in 2001 and 2008 respectively. Meanwhile, those effected by the cancer cluster are still suffering to this very day. It does not seem very fair for the people who caused the cancer cluster get to live out the rest of their lives in extreme luxury while those who suffered from it are still struggling.

            The most appropriate punishment that the government could have given to these corporations would have been to completely dismantle them In the State of New Jersey, the punishment for man slaughter is around 10 to 20 years in prison.[32] Both Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide definitely committed this crime multiple times in the Toms River cancer cluster case. Although the number of these deaths that can actually be attributed to either company is debatable, Linda Gillick has said that she knows of over 150 children who have succumb to cancer since she began her advocacy.[33] Even if we assume that neither corporation had anything to do with about half of these deaths, then they would still be put in jail for far longer than the lifespan of a normal human. Obviously, a corporation cannot serve jail time like a normal human being.  But that does not mean that they should be allowed to continue to exist after they have committed such a heinous crime. Governments should instead seek to dismantle corporations who commit crimes that kill large numbers of people and give the sale of its assets to the families that were affected by their misdeeds. This both insures that future corporations would never even think of polluting a town and that families would receive more than enough financial recompense for their suffering. This is truly the most just punishment that the government could give to the corporations that caused the Toms River cancer cluster    

The People Take Justice for Themselves

            With the government ignoring them and corporations focusing on recuperating lost revenue, the people of Toms River formed an organization known as Ocean of Love in order to make sure that children who suffer from cancer in the future will be supported. Ocean of Love is a charitable organization that was founded by one of the most significant Toms River cancer cluster advocates, Linda Gillick, in 1988. The organization provides numerous services to families who suffer from childhood cancer, including support groups, family themed events, and financial support.[34] Obviously, Ocean of Love cannot go back in time to change what happened to these families who suffered during the Toms River cancer cluster. Nor can they force the government or corporations to apologize for everything that they have done wrong.  But organizations like this can however, give meaning to their suffering. The existence of Ocean of Love means that all of the children who suffered and died because of the cancer cluster did not do so for nothing. Their suffering ensured that an organization would be formed that makes sure that what they went through would never occur to any child again. Due to their sacrifice, future children who develop cancer in the ocean county area will get the emotional and financial support that they need to beat their cancer. Ocean of Love permanently enshrines heroic legacy of all of the victims of the Toms River cancer cluster.

            In order to help pay for the services that they provide to families, Ocean of Love regularly holds fundraising events. One of the organization’s largest and most well-known event is the Billboard Radiothon. This event has been held every year, including this year, since the first one was held 13 years ago.[35] Every year around Halloween time, radio host for the Hawk 105.7 Andy Chase camps out at the top at the top of this billboard for around a week in a tent in order to raise money for Ocean of Love. Besides watching a man live atop of billboard, spectators also enjoy a number of other family themed events, typically organized by local businesses. Each year, Ocean of Love sets a monetary goal for the weeks festivities, typically around 105,700 dollars. Most of the money that Ocean of Love makes off of this event comes from selling local sponsorships and donations from those attending the event.[36] The Billboard Radiothon is one of the primary reasons why Ocean of Love is able to help so many sick children.

            Unfortunately, The COVID-19 pandemic severely hampered Ocean of Love’s ability to fundraise. Due to restrictions put in place by the New Jersey state government, large gatherings like fundraisers were not allowed to be held in order to slow down the spread of the virus.[37] While this ultimately proved successful in its goal of slowing the spread of the virus and was probably good for the wellbeing of the state as a whole, it undoubtedly hurt Ocean of Love’s charity efforts. Less fundraisers meant that Ocean of Love had significantly less money to help families suffering from childhood cancer. This is extremely unfortunate, since unlike many businesses, cancer does not take a break when there is a pandemic. Everything is still the same for these children, with the only major difference being that now they do not have the support from organizations like Ocean of Love to help alleviate their suffering. All in all, the COVID-19 pandemic was a disaster for children suffering from childhood cancer.

            It initially looked like the 2020 Billboard Radiothon would not happen, but even when it was officially announced, organizers were worried that it would not make as much money as it has in the past. Andy Chase wrote in a blog post for the Hawk 105.7’s website that, “Honestly, we didn’t even know if it (the Billboard Radiothon) would happen this year…”[38] Luckily for Ocean of Love and the people of Toms River, the event was allowed to be held, largely due to the event being held outdoors and the organizers implementing basic COVID-19 protocols (social distancing, wearing a mask, etc.). Nevertheless, the odds seemed stacked against the Billboard Radiothon being a success in 2020. Ocean of Love’s lack of funds due to cancelling other events earlier in the year meant that they were really counting on this event to generate revenue. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused many business to either shut down or drastically cut down on spending, which meant that they had less money to spend on things like sponsorships. And as a byproduct of these business’ decisions, many people had lost their jobs, which made it unlikely that they would have the money to donate to a charity. And this is not even mentioning the fact that people could have been hesitant to go to a large gathering like this due to fear of catching or spreading the virus. Even though the goal was the same as last year, expectations for this Billboard Radiothon were at an all-time low in 2020.

Billboard Radiothon Info | Ocean Of Love

            Shockingly, the 2020 Billboard Raidothon ended up being an unbelievable success for Ocean of Love. At the end of the week. Andy Chase and Ocean of Love ended up raising 164,054 dollars, over 50,000 dollars above their goal of 105,700 dollars. [39] Even more surprisingly, Ocean of Love also topped last year’s total of 148,935 dollars by around 16,000 dollars.[40] It is absolutely clear from these numbers that the Billboard Radiothon was a success beyond all reasonable expectations. The reason for this success is because the people of Toms River and Ocean County took it upon themselves to help these children. They too were likely suffering, both do to the aforementioned financial difficulties caused by the shutdown and the virus itself. Despite everyone else forgetting about them, the people of Toms River still remembers the cancer cluster. They joined together for the 2020 Billboard Radiothon to make sure that the organization birthed out of this horrible event would succeed. What happened here cannot be understated, the people of Toms River really came through for these children.

            The 2020 Billboard Radiothon is proof that justice can be had in the Toms River cancer cluster case. Before I discovered Ocean of Love and the subsequent Billboard Radiothon, my research led me to believe that there was little hope of that victims of the Toms River Cancer cluster would ever receive true justice. After all, when looking solely at what the government and corporations did for the people of Toms River, the situation looks pretty grim. But the 2020 Billboard Radiothon definitively proves that if enough people come together, they can overcome everything that is put in their way. Due to the heroism of everyone who was involved in this event, children’s lives will be better, even if it is only by a little bit, than they were before. And if that is not justice, then I do not know what is.          

Looking Towards the Future

            One thing that astute readers will notice is that I did not mention the concept race over the course of this piece. This is not because I did not factor the concept into my research, but rather because it did not influence the Toms River cancer cluster case in any significant way. There was ultimately very little representation among prominent activists in the cancer cluster case. This is not surprising, considering the minority population of the town is only at 19%, which is much smaller than both the state and the country, which are at 44% and 33% respectively. Toms River ranked in the 27th percentile in the state and the 36th in the country in regards to minority population.[41] This essentially means that Toms River has a mostly Caucasian population, especially when compared to New Jersey (which is more diverse than the country as a whole) and America. This is not to say that no minority populations were not among those affected by the cancer cluster, just that if they were, there are not enough materials to properly analyze how they were affected by it compared to the Caucasian population. An in-depth personal investigation of everyone who claims that they were affected by the cancer cluster would have to be conducted in order to further examine this topic.

            Despite all I have said about government over the course of this paper, I do believe that there are reasons to be hopeful about what the government will do in the future. I the month in November 2020, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th President of the United States of America.[42] Although it is unlikely that he will be particularly progressive on environmental issues, he believes in regulation far more than Donald Trump.[43] The current Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy, while also not perfect on environmental issues, does believe in environmental justice.[44] The government will probably never fully do needs to be done to give the people of Toms River justice. But if there are competent people in office that take environmental issues seriously, then at least we will not be moving backwards like we are under the Trump administration. Perhaps, if we are lucky, we can prevent another Toms River cancer cluster from happening.

            After all of this, what can the Toms River cancer cluster tell us about the concept of justice? I propose a broad definition of justice that includes anything that produces a fairer and more equitable outcome for a given group of people, whether that be through the law or any other peaceful method. Under my definition, what the government and corporations did in the Toms River cancer cluster case was definitely not justice. The government, while initially well intentioned, did not do nearly enough to create a fairer and more equitable outcome for the people of Toms River. Meanwhile, the corporations did almost the exact opposite of justice, only furthering an inequitable outcome. The only actions that could be considered just by my definition were those of the activists. They were the only one of the three that were able to definitively create a fairer and more equitable outcome for the survivors of the Toms River cancer cluster through their charitable organization Ocean of Love. This goes to show that sometimes justice can only be had if you take it for yourself.

Key Words:

Class, Water, Pollution, Factories, Business


[1] West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. S.v. “justice.” Retrieved December 7 2020 from https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/justice

[2] Fagin, Dan. 2014. Toms River : a Story of Science and Salvation New York: Bantam Books

[3] Maslia, Reyes. 2005. “Public Health Partnerships Addressing Childhood Cancer Investigations: Case Study of Toms River, Dover Township, New Jersey, USA.” International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 208 (1): 50-51 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2005.01.007.

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[5] Maslia, Reyes. 2005. “Public Health Partnerships Addressing Childhood Cancer Investigations: Case Study of Toms River, Dover Township, New Jersey, USA.” International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 208 (1): 551 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2005.01.007.

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[8] Pochedly, Carl. 1976. Neuroblastoma Acton, Mass: Publishing Sciences Group: 2106

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[10] Ann Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, Mary Ann. “Toms River Cancer Cluster Still a Mystery despite 20 Years of Studies.” nj.com. The Star Ledger, February 6, 2015. https://www.nj.com/ocean/2015/02/after_decades_of_studies_toms_river_residents_no_c.html.

[11] Fagin, Dan. 2014. Toms River : a Story of Science and Salvation New York: Bantam Books: 453

[12] Fagin, Dan. 2014. Toms River : a Story of Science and Salvation New York: Bantam Books: 115

[13] Fagin, Dan. 2014. Toms River : a Story of Science and Salvation New York: Bantam Books: 438-461

[14] “Dow Completes Merger With Union Carbide.” Adhesives Sealants Industry RSS. Adhesives & Sealants Industry, March 27, 2001. https://www.adhesivesmag.com/articles/83191-dow-completes-merger-with-union-carbide.

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[16] BASF Corp V. Township of Toms River, justia.com (Tax Court of New Jersey 2019).

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[19] Mikle, Jean. “Should Water Testing End at Reich Farm Superfund Site?” Asbury Park Press. Asbury Park Press, October 25, 2016. https://www.app.com/story/news/local/land-environment/2016/10/14/should-water-testing-end-reich-farm-superfund-site/90316458/.

[20] Mikle, Jean. “Notorious Toms River Superfund Site Gets 5 More Years of Water Testing.” Asbury Park Press. Asbury Park Press, April 11, 2018. https://www.app.com/story/news/local/land-environment/nj-enviro-watchdog/2018/04/11/reich-farm-toms-river-superfund-water-tests/503724002/.

[21]   Mikle, Jean. “Toms River Cancer Cluster: Will Environmental Rollbacks Bring Back ‘Toxic’ Town?” Asbury Park Press. Asbury Park Press, August 18, 2018. https://www.app.com/story/news/local/land-environment/2018/08/14/toms-river-cancer-cluster-environmental-rollbacks-ciba-geigy/619144002/.

[22]   Fagin, Dan. 2014. Toms River : a Story of Science and Salvation New York: Bantam Books: 51

[23]     Fagin, Dan. 2014. Toms River : a Story of Science and Salvation New York: Bantam Books: 156-176

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[34] “About Our Childhood Cancer Charity: Toms River, NJ.” Ocean Of Love. Accessed December 14, 2020. https://oceanoflove.org/about-us.

[35] “Billboard Radiothon Info.” Ocean Of Love. 105.7. Accessed December 14, 2020. https://oceanoflove.org/billboard-radiothon-info.

[36] Chase, Andy. “Activities Happening at the Ocean of Love Billboard Radiothon.” 105.7 The Hawk. 105.7 The Hawk, October 19, 2020. https://1057thehawk.com/activities-happening-at-the-ocean-of-love-billboard-radiothon-2/.

[37] “Official Site of The State of New Jersey.” Office of the Governor | Governor Murphy Announces Statewide Stay at Home Order, Closure of All Non-Essential Retail Businesses, March 21, 2020. https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200320j.shtml.

[38] Chase, Andy. “The Ocean of Love Billboard Radiothon IS Happening This Year.” 105.7 The Hawk. 105.7 The Hawk, September 18, 2020. https://1057thehawk.com/the-ocean-of-love-billboard-radiothon-is-happening-this-year/.

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