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The Cyanide Canary Hardcover – September 14, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743246527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743246521
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title refers to the cyanide in a tank that left Scott Dominguez, a worker at an Idaho plant, brain-damaged after an accident in 1996. As in a good thriller, the accident takes place in the first few pages, and the rest of the book is devoted to the legal case that followed. Dugoni, a freelance writer, and Hilldorfer, one of the Environmental Protection Agency investigators in the case, leave no doubt about who the bad guy is in this story: he’s the plant’s owner, Allan Elias, who had a long history of skirting the law in environmental matters. Using the memories of Hilldorfer and others involved in prosecuting the case, the authors build their story. They drive the narrative well in the book’s first half (they’re particularly strong in portraying the personalities of both the investigators and the witnesses in the case), but the story loses momentum when the case comes to the courtroom. The trial is depicted blow-by-blow, and, until the verdict is given, some of the outrage of the earlier pages is lost amid the minutiae of the legal system. Still, this book successfully fleshes out the excitement and the difficulty of prosecuting environmental criminals in the U.S.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At the core of this enthralling legal drama is a 250-gallon storage tank containing cyanide. On August 26, 1996, a 20-year-old worker at a fertilizer plant in Soda Springs, Idaho, was ordered to clean the tank, which he and other workers believed contained only dirt and water. The worker, who was told he needed no safety equipment for the job, was overcome by fumes and emerged severely brain damaged. Hilldorfer, an environmental-crime specialist for the EPA, and writer Dugoni retrace the EPA's effort to uncover what led to the accident and to bring the responsible parties to justice. Before Hilldorfer's campaign, environmental crimes were largely ignored or, when brought to trial, resulted only in pro-forma wrist slaps. This account engages the reader, evoking both outrage over worker safety and suspense over the outcome of the trial. The authors combine accounts of Hilldorfer's own experiences (he appears as a character in the book) with interviews, sworn trial testimony, court transcripts, and newspaper articles to tell a fully rounded, gripping story of how environmental crime is prosecuted in the real world. The title of the book is especially apt: it refers both to the old miners' practice of bringing canaries into mines as early warning systems of poisonous gases and to the fate of the brain-damaged worker, whose plight may yet save others. Connie Fletcher
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 19 customer reviews
You feel as if you are in the court room during the trial.
J. D. Cox
The story is almost over and then takes another twist that really had me sprinting to the end of the book.
Mehri Kaufman
An issue is only as credible as how well it's expressed, and the articulation in this book is superb.
Therese Hercher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Cox on September 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book. The fact that it is a true story makes it even better. The investigators and lawyers truely poured their hearts into this case. It is written in a way that constantly make you want to find out what's going to happen next. You feel as if you are in the court room during the trial. It is such a sad story and your heart goes out to the injured person. I would highly recommend this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Theresa Goetz on December 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book for a friend for Christmas and found I had to go back and buy two more copies (one for myself and as another gift), because I started reading it before wrapping it and couldn't put it down. I won't call this tragic "story"--because the word story implies it is a work of fiction. However, the detailed endnotes based on sworn affidavit, deposition and trial testimony, as well as numerous citations to witness interviews show it is well researched recital of shockingly true facts. Written in the third person, it reads as easily as a fiction novel (including simplified medical, chemical and legal jargon), but it clearly is not. Given the monstrosity of the events, it is easy to understand how witnesses involved in the investigation and trial would easily remembered what they said and saw at the time the events occurred. This is a definite read for anyone interested in a well written and researched compelling story of finding justice in a small Idaho-company based town. The only people who might not want to read it now would be those who don't want to have their holiday preparations waylaid (because it will pull you into the story), or those who are still denying the facts of what happened.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
We lived and worked in eastern Washington State during the mid-1990s for environmental companies and both had to take safety classes where they explained the dangers of confined space entries and the precautions you have to take for working in those environments, not to mention all the other regulatory and safety requirements needed for working with hazardous chemicals. We were lucky: we were educated, well-paid, working for environmental clean-up companies with lucrative government contracts where safety was good business practice.

The circumstances detailed in The Cyanide Canary are 180 degrees different. Allen Elias, the owner of the Evergreen facility, was not engaged in environmental cleanup, but working on the cheap trying to develop a commercial means of reprocessing waste. His employees were high-school graduates desperate for a job, with no safety training or understanding of the requirements for confined space work, nor any clue, really, about the hazards of certain chemicals--things Elias did know. Which is why Elias was charged with criminal conduct after one of his workers was injured during a tank cleanout. The story of the accident, along with the resulting investigation, and trial, makes up this book, which reads like a long Law & Order episode, almost complete with the "Ka-Chung" sound at the end of each chapter. As such, it should appeal to L&O fans, or anyone with an interest in how environmental law is being developed.

The weakest part of the book is the beginning chapter, where the authors attempt to portray the events of the accident in an almost novelistic method, including trying for some suspense about whether the victim, Scott Dominguez, would survive or not.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mehri Kaufman on December 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a long time Idaho resident and libertarian. I am pretty cynical about help from the Federal government, but...

In Idaho, someone tried to get ahead by cutting corners in ways that impacted others. We have a perfect role for government to step in. This is a true tragedy. The story is almost over and then takes another twist that really had me sprinting to the end of the book.

As I promote free markets, people always ask what will keep big business from destroying the world. This is a great story about the difficulties, and ultimate triumph of the government's effort to make one citizen accountable for his actions.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on October 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the coal mines of yesterday the miners took a canary with them into the mine. If the canary fell off of its perch the miners knew they were in trouble. In this true story, twenty year old Scott Dominguez didn't have a canary when he went into a 25,000 gallen storage tank that turned out to be filled with poisonous gasses. Shortly thereafter he was pulled from the tank unconscious. He was not managed to live through the night but was severly brain damaged. In effect Scott acted as the canary himself.

The tank had been used to store cyanide and phosphoric acid. When combined, these chemicals produce hydrogen cyanide, the gas used by the various states to execute 945 men and seven women in gas chambers. It has since been determined that the 7 to 15 minutes that it takes to kill a criminal is cruel and unsual punishment because the victuum suffers horrible pain for up to several minutes. Gas chambers have has been ruled unconstitutional.

This is a tragic story of a horrible environmental crime. The investigators took years to bring an uncaring business owner to justice finally gaining a 17 year sentence for the owner of the company.
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