Site Description-KM


What is Justice? The Ongoing Case of the Toms River Cancer Cluster

Author Biography: 

            My name is Kenneth Morrissey and I am currently apart of the History Master’s Program at Rutgers University-Newark. I previously earned a Bachelor’s of Arts’ Degree, majoring in history from Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Over the course of my short 23 years of life, I have received numerous award and honors, including receiving two Mayor’s Volunteer Appreciation Awards for my work in my local community, achieving Dean’s List every single semester as an undergraduate, and graduating summa cum laude. One of those Mayor’s Volunteer Appreciation Awards was for when I worked a local environmental museum called Greenable Woodbridge. Although I was just a teenager when I worked there, my time at Greenable Woodbridge had a profound impact on my interest in the environment, particularly in my home state of New Jersey. That interest combined with my lifelong love of history led me to research the Toms River cancer cluster.

Project Site Description

                Toms River New Jersey is infamously known as “Chemical Town” to the people who live in the surrounding area. The town developed this rather unfortunate nickname because two companies, at the time known as Ciba-Geigy and Union Carbide, polluted the town’s drinking water with their chemicals. In the 1990s, a group of parents, led by Linda Gillick, became concerned that the polluted drinking water was the cause of an unusually high number of early childhood cancer cases in the township and filed a motion to sue the two corporations (along with United Water Toms River) for damages. After a study came out that linked prenatal exposure to chemicals in the polluted water to leukemia in female children, the corporations settled with the parents in 2002 for 35 million dollars, but never accepted any blame for causing the cancer. A great deal of scholarship has been written about the Toms River Cancer Cluster through the year 2013, highlighted by Dan Fagin’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation. But in recent years, the number of scholarly works about this issue seems to have dissipated. Meanwhile, the exact cause of many of the types of cancers that has developed in these now grown children (besides leukemia in females) remains unknown. Scientists have continued to publish studies as recently as 2015 in unsuccessful attempts to find an answer to this question. Linda Gillick still holds meetings of the Citizens Action Committee on Childhood Cancer Cluster for an increasingly smaller number of people. On the other side, the corporations who polluted the town are looking to recoup their losses. BASF (a German Company that bought Ciba-Geigy) successfully sued the town of Toms River in 2019 for 20 million dollars in tax revenue that they had to pay on unusable land (that they themselves polluted) from 2004 to 2018. Also trying to recoup their losses, Dow Chemical (the company that owns Union Carbide) has repeatedly unsuccessfully petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to cease their mandate that they have to pay for the testing of the water pollution levels on the Reich Farm Superfund site. The research questions that I have for this project are the following: What are activists, such as Linda Gillick, currently doing to bring a resolution to the Toms River cancer cluster case? How did Mayor Mo Hill influence the 2019 BASF vs Township of Toms River Court case and the subsequent negotiations to develop the Ciba-Geigy site? And what is the Environmental Protect Agency’s role in enforcing the cleanup of these two sites? I believe that it is extremely important to discuss the modern developments in the Toms River cancer cluster case because it looks increasingly likely that those affected by it will never receive true justice. It was said by many that receiving money from these corporations in the 2002 lawsuit was justice for these families. But those corporations never had to admit blame and many of the families are still left wondering what exactly caused their children’s cancer. And since that point, one of the corporations has received cash payment from the local government for the pollution that they themselves caused. While the other looks to eventually stop paying to test the water that they once contaminated. It seems that as time has gone on, the families who were and still are effected by the Toms River cancer cluster continue to suffer, while the burden has been increasingly removed from the corporations who are at fault. Under no reasonable definition could you define what has transpired here in recent years as justice.

Key Words:

Class, Water, Pollution, Factories, Business