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Cara Hoffman was a young reporter in 1994 when she covered an explosion at a chemical plant in Buffalo, New York. She remembers a toxic plume coating nearby lawns in white. Gardens wilted. Pets died, and goldfish floated lifeless in bowls next to open windows. Without an evacuation plan, people in the neighborhood went on with their lives, scrubbing the toxic remnants off their cars.

Hoffman knew Buffalo was an industrial town, but she was shocked by just how much power the industry had, and that it was using that power to ruin people’s lives. The chemical industry tried to deflect the blame for cancer clusters and hide environmental impact statements, according to Hoffman, even while people were getting sick, having miscarriages, and losing family members to illness. After the explosion, the neighbors banded together to form a community alert network. “These things were happening largely to people who lived in poor and Black neighborhoods — places where the deadly ethical failings of a chemical plant would go unnoticed,” she wrote in a reflection.

Hoffman spent years investigating these kinds of environmental crimes before turning to writing fiction professionally... Read more

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