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Lake Effect

Two Sisters and a Town's Toxic Legacy

Ms. Nancy A. Nichols


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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.

Praise For Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town's Toxic Legacy

"A chilling indictment of how government and big business prized profits over health and a moving tale of one woman's struggle to understand why."
— People

"A fast-moving, urgent narrative that catalogues the evidence of the many different forms of pollution and the likelihood that they contributed to the cancers, documenting the choices and treatment she must face as a cancer patient."
— Publishers Weekly

"Presents convincing proof that Waukegan and Lake Michigan are prime suspects in the sisters' cancers."
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In Lake Effect, Nichols, now 49, weaves her investigations of Waukegan's pollution and the causes of cancer with her own story of diagnosis and treatment. It's a thoughtful examination of the risks faced by bodies made by nature in a world fabricated by technology."
— Pittsburgh City Paper

"...Eloquent indictment of decades of corporate carelessness, official inaction and American society's reflexive focus on searching for a cure instead of a cause."
— EnviroBlog

"I read this book like a desert hiker drinks water—in great, thankful gulps. It's a scientific investigation of the most intimate sort. It's a family memoir with public policy implications. 'Stories matter,' says Nancy Nichols. And then she proves it."
— Sandra Steingraber, biologist and author of "Living Downstream"

"A stunning, haunting, exquisite memoir. As a scientist, I'm dumbstruck. As a human being, I'm appalled."
— Devra Davis, Director, Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh

"In Lake Effect Nancy Nichols beautifully weaves together the story of her sister's death and her own ill health with the equally compelling story of her hometown of Waukegan on Lake Michigan's shores. Her quest to make sense of her family's devastating illnesses and the region's toxic chemicals is clear-eyed, eloquent, and revealing."
— Kathlyn Conway, author of "Ordinary Life" and "Illness and the Limits of Expression"

"Powerful. Intense. Compelling. With spare, elegant prose… poignant yet scientifically accurate, Nancy Nichols weaves a personal story into a universal tragedy, about toxic waste, careless industry, and human suffering."
— Pete Myers, coauthor of "Our Stolen Future"

Island Press, 9781597260848, 192pp.

Publication Date: July 23, 2008

About the Author

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.