In 1981, a doctor in a small mill town in Maine read a study suggesting that prostate and colon cancers in his community were nearly double the national average. Spooked, he brought the research to the board of directors at the local hospital; they ignored it. A few years later, a survey conducted by the Maine Department of Health suggested that the town, Rumford, had an especially high incidence of cancer, aplastic anemia and lung disease. The state epidemiologist insisted that the data were inconclusive. In 1991, a TV news series christened the area “Cancer Valley” because of the number of people there who had been diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. Doc Martin, as the local doctor was known, got a call from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Why, the institute wanted to know, were “all these kids with cancer” coming from Rumford?

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Photo credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times