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When I think of chemicals and waste products that cause human cancers, deformities, life-threatening illnesses and such, I think of Erin Brockovich and her quest to stop the release of hexavalent chromium into the environment. Author Michael Palmer is right up that same alley with his work of fictionalized characters in an all too real world of West Virginia mining and the release of all sorts of really noxious waste into the streams, valleys, and atmosphere of what could be a really beautiful section of our country. Matt Rutledge is the doctor who gets thrown into the puzzle by accident when he goes back to his beloved hill country following the death of his wife, Ginny. There, in the county hospital, he encounters for the second time a set of strange symptoms which lead up to the development of fleshy lumps on the skin called neurofibromas followed by psychotic behavior leading to the ultimate death of the patient. In the ensuing weeks, as one thing leads to another, our doctor deduces that the Belinda Coal and Coke Company which controls all the mines in the area doesn’t seem to want any publicity of the strange deaths. The company is also hiding deadly waste in old mines and has covert links to a vaccine manufacturer named Omnivax which is coming under congressional scrutiny for deaths attributed to their vaccine for hemorrhagic Lassa fever. When Matt’s girlfriend Nikki stumbles onto further connections between the strange neurofibroma deaths, immunization sera and leached mountain chemicals in the area of Montgomery County, the two of them are targeted for elimination by the corporate schemers. They go on the run with Nikki barely escaping death after an accident and being treated by a doctor in the pockets of the coal company. They have to find the final link and the proof to stop what may become an epidemic of spongiform encephalopathy caused by the synergistic reactions of persons to the contaminated water and the vaccinations they need against diseases. It’s a well-woven tale, with very plausible characters, descriptions of rural West Virginian living conditions and misguided rugged individualism which allows them to be exploited by the corporations that dominate and control their lives. Read the book and apply the lessons to your own hometown. We are all being affected by the dumping of wastes into our streams and atmosphere as well as the chemicals we use to treat our fruits, vegetables and kill our weeds. Something scary could come with the next bite of the apple.
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