From Publishers Weekly
Journalist McMasters's look at the toxic relationship between Brookhaven National Laboratory and the neighboring Long Island towns careens into a tedious memoir of childhood. McMasters moved to the unpromising working-class town of Shirley in the early 1970s when she was five and her golf pro father got a job with Hampton Hills Golf & Country Club. For a child without siblings, the street teeming with young families was a magical place to grow up, and McMasters made lifelong girlfriends. However, the town was economically depressed, despite its optimistic founding by Walter T. Shirley in the early 1950s. And Shirley was in the shadow of the top-secret Brookhaven atomic research laboratory, whose nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 regardless of the dangers posed to the growing community. Tritium, the waste from nuclear experiments, leaked into the adjacent rivers and aquifers for decades, and the author ploddingly traces the seepage into private wells. The town flirted with a name change to bolster property values, just as residents were plagued by alarming cases of cancer. Indeed, thanks to the Long Island Breast Cancer Research Project of 1993, a cluster of cases was discovered within a 15-mile radius of Brookhaven. Intermittently, McMasters summons considerable research and critical powers, yet the litany of Shirley's resident misery resists an elegant synthesis. (Apr.)
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McMasters’ early years were peripatetic, making the family’s decision to settle down in scrappy blue-collar Shirley, Long Island, momentous. Here, on the edge of a wildlife preserve, they secured their first home and for the first time became part of a community. But all was not well in the early 1980s in this shoddily constructed small town, or at nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory. Journalist McMasters writes with precision, affection, and venom about the history of her hometown, chronicling the misdeeds of its speculator founder, William Turnbull Shirley; lovingly portraying neighbors; and indicting Brookhaven, a flawed nuclear facility and “one of the nation’s most hazardous waste offenders,” for allowing tritium and other radioactive substances to fatally contaminate the area’s groundwater and soil. So high were the cancer rates in Shirley, a street was dubbed Death Row, and cancer survivors launched a fierce battle against the federal government. Joining the growing circle of environmental health memoirists, McMasters marshals the facts and articulates feelings with eloquence and drama, telling stories of personal suffering to expose crimes against the public, and nature itself. --Donna Seaman