Shirley, Long Island was a "hardscrabble service town to the glittering Hamptons" but to Kelly McMasters it was an idyllic town in which to grow up; close knit neighborhood, block parties, a group of girlfriends to hang out with and explore the wildlife refuge that was next to their subdivision, Fourth of July barbecues, and neighbors that watched out for you. But Shirley was also located next to the deadly toxic nuclear plant called Brookhaven National Laboratory which for years was leaking deadly chemicals into the groundwater.
Kelly watched her neighbors and friends become ill and die, the nuclear plant become a Superfund site, and the town's attempt to resurrect itself through a new identity." It is at times a love song to the town and a heartbreaking story of loss."
I was drawn to this memoir because I grew up on Long Island. We passed by the signs to Shirley every time we headed out to Montauk Point during summers. Although the name Brookhaven Lab was as familiar to me as Grumman Aircraft, I really had no idea what they did. I always assumed it was just another scientific lab doing biological, wildlife or fisheries research. Long Island has a lot of those. I had no idea that nuclear experiments were going on there or that evacuation plans were in place in case of a nuclear meltdown. I had no idea that it was built in a place that was supposed to be far away from major population centers because of the nature of the atomic work that was being conducted there. I had no idea that Brookhaven was home to so many nuclear reactors.
It is a scathing look at how "environmental injustice" works.