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Parts per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School Hardcover – July 19, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Commingling fame and wealth, Beverly Hills embodies the modern version of the American dream, but journalist Horowitz (Tessie and Pearlie) argues that it's also a modern American nightmare. Her tale of corporate neglect, petty politics, endless legal wrangling and our love-hate relationship with petroleum centers on Beverly Hills High School and its illustrious alumni, oil derricks and alarming number of cancer victims. Initially skeptical of the idea that the profitable oil pumps adjacent to the school have led to an array of horrible diseases among its graduates, especially with celebrity advocate Erin Brockovich poking around the case, Horowitz quickly found herself pulled into a story that raises fundamental questions about how we assess risk and balance our desire for justice with scientific and legal ambiguities about establishing causes and assigning blame. Horowitz is better at raising such questions than answering them, largely because in her case the truth does not come out, the public and even people involved in the litigation begin to lose interest, and no lawsuits have come to trial, let alone been resolved. That doesn't make for very satisfying reading, but it's faithful to a time in which, as Horowitz says, even our will to do right by our communities has been contaminated by competing desires. (July)
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From Booklist

At her thirtieth reunion, Horowitz was astonished to learn that so many of her former classmates had cancer. Oil wells under the town of Beverly Hills and the highly regarded high school were apparently the cause. She had some difficulty getting access to documents because of ongoing lawsuits initiated by famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich. Still, Horowitz draws on interviews with cancer specialists, geologists, toxicologists, and former teachers and classmates to relate an amazing story of environmental hazard in one of the nation's most storied towns, proof that it can happen anywhere. For years students had been living with oil-tinged clothing following workouts on the athletic fields, with oil pumps looming in the background. But town residents, enjoying royalty checks and the tony image of their community, refused to connect the presence of oil pumps and rising reports of cancer in their youth. Horowitz chronicles the residents' range of emotions, from anger and denial to shame at having done so little to protect their children, as she examines the role of money, image, and continued uncertainty in a community grappling with environmental hazards. Bush, Vanessa

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (July 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670037982
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670037988
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #647,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joy Horowitz is a freelance journalist and former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Los Angeles magazine, and many other national publications. She graduated Harvard cum laude in 1975 and worked as a copy girl, sports writer and investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

After stints as an investigative producer at the local CBS-TV news station in L.A. and feature writer at the Los Angeles Times, she received a Masters in Studies of Law (MSL) degree from Yale Law School in 1982.

She has been the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her reporting on indoor air pollution for the Los Angeles Times, and Sunday Magazine Editors' Association award for her Los Angeles Times magazine article "Greetings from Pearlie and Tessie," which was the basis for her 1996 book, "Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter's Story." In 2007, her second book, "Parts Per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School," was published and led to her being honored as an "environmnetal hero" in 2008 by the Environmental Relief Center in Los Angeles. That same year, she received an environmental journalism fellowship to study at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Joy now lives with her husband and children and dog in Santa Monica, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Dinolfo on August 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Joy Horowitz, a journalist by trade, has taken the discipline, curiosity and objectivity inherent to her profession and applied these attributes to an intensely controversial, emotional topic-whether the industries adjacent to her alma mater, Beverly Hills High School, have, for decades, poisoned the children who are students there.

For many years the presence of an oil drilling platform immediately adjacent to the athletic fields and, on another side of the campus, the proximity to the facilities that process the air for nearby Century City, have been a subject of vigorous debate regarding their potential for causing health hazards. The appearance of cancer "clusters" among the alumni and faculty of Beverly Hills High School was trivialized by school administrators and minimized by city officials.

Four years in the writing, Horowitz has meticulously investigated all angles of this story, mastering the most technical of material and rendering it with an articulate, personal, and comprehensible style. What emerges will change forever the way you think about where you work, live, and play. Of even greater import, it demands that everyday people begin to analyze the impact that "progress" has on our health and safety, and no longer complacently believe that someone else has our best interests at heart.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Karen Fairbank Moosekian on August 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This intense, clearly and compellingly written, painstakingly researched epic is a human tragedy set in a medical and environmental disaster affecting children and their teachers, and the residents of an entire neighborhood. While similar cancer clusters have appeared in other locations, the clear cause of the cancer cluster at Beverly Hills High School has blinded the local government, parents and other residents, and has caused them to act against the best interests of their children and community, dooming them to a huge risk of an array of early fatal cancers. Horowitz has dug deeply into the scientific background and legal action of this disaster, producing a page-turner, despite the volume of information. If this can happen in a wealthy community with the resources of Beverly Hills, it can happen anywhere (and is). Anyone interested in the intersection between business and environmental and legal issues must read this excellent book, which in my opinion should win the Pulitzer Prize!!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jay Lehr on February 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School" is a provocative yet clear title. It may be true and it may not be, but the story is told by a very talented insider who in the end lets the reader decide, though she herself is certainly convinced.

The book should appeal to readers of fiction, for it once again proves that truth can be as thrilling as the escape one achieves with a good novel.

Horowitz is a wife and mother whose family lives in Santa Monica, not far from where she graduated high school in Beverly Hills. She is a journalist and writer with extraordinary talent who tells a comprehensive, thoughtful, and lucid tale about fascinating individuals, private corporations, and boring bureaucrats, in the style of a mystery novel that places the reader in the shoes of the narrator, seeing what she sees.

School in Oil Field

What is described in this story is more like occupational oil field worker exposure than general environmental exposure. But in this unusual case the workers are students and teachers at a high school that all but sits in the middle of the producing oil field.

Seven oil field derricks are just outside the windows of the school. Anecdotal evidence of health problems associated with the school mounted steadily as no fewer than 10 teachers in the English Department on the high school's third floor contracted cancer over time.

The book has as many characters as War and Peace and would have benefited from a character chart like the one that accompanies many printings of Tolstoy's novel. One gets to know a wonderful group of dedicated teachers, some with Ivy League credentials, training many students to take their places within the hallowed halls of America's greatest universities.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brock P. Walsh on August 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an important book on a crucial topic. While we live in a time of great advances and scientific discovery, the chemicals and by-products that steadily increase in our environment are having greater and greater influence on our cells and ourselves.

We need information. Journalists like Joy are hindered in their ability to get their hands on this information because polluters are far more interested in protecting themselves than their fellow citizens. And although we may like to believe that the government agencies whose mission is to protect us are in fact protecting us, the sad truth is that some presidents actually do the reverse by appointing industry insiders to EPA (and other agency) positions so that business will not have to be bothered with the nuisance of being responsible, or even truthful.

This book tackles these difficult questions very well. Her writing is clear and powerful. This is not a science book though it teaches us much about the science of oil. It is a human story about trying to take control of our lives. We all need to be better informed and she helps us to be just that.

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