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Charles E. Ophardt, Professor of Chemistry, Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL 60126, charleso@elmhurst.edu, Copyright 2004

ISSUE 6B: CASE STUDY: A CIVIL ACTION

DID TRICHLOROETHYLENE IN GROUND WATER FROM W.R. GRACE COMPANY CAUSE A CLUSTER OF LEUKEMIA DEATHS IN WOBURN, MASS.?


Debate Question
Internet Resource Sites

"A Civil Action" is a book by Jonanthan Harr, and subsequent Hollywood movie of the same name, which documents a court trial in Woburn, Massachusetts. W.R. Grace Company and several other companies were accused of contaminating the drinking water, which in turn lead to a cluster of leukemia cancers. In this case study, we will look at a series of documents about the trial, subsequent studies, and the EPA Superfund Cleanup to determine the answer to the main debate question. After researching the the original trial and subsequent studies, you will be the jury for the retrial of this case. There are many documents in this case study, since it will be quite time consuming to read all of them, each student will concentrate on one or more and summarize the main points for the other students. Then the other students can read the summaries for the their decision about the trial.


DEBATE OR TRIAL QUESTION:
DID TRICHLOROETHYLENE OR ANY CHEMICALS IN GROUND WATER FROM W.R. GRACE COMPANY CAUSE A CLUSTER OF

INTERNET RESOURCES:

Round one:

 SUMMARY ARTICLES - EVERYONE SHOULD READ AT LEAST THE FIRST ONE.

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr - Short review of the book and short summary of the case study

A Civil Action - Movie review

A Toxic Legacy - series of articles by Dan Kennedy

Main Site and Links about the Woburn Toxic Chemical Waste site.

A legal brief from students at the Harvard Law School - give both sides in a series of sequential pages

Woburn Case Study at Ohio State

 Chemical Descriptions, Toxicity, and Health Effects
TOX FAQ's

Most common chemicals found at Superfund Sites

 Questions
 Internet Resources

 Ques. 1a. Student # 1: Briefly summarize the history of chemical contamination at Woburn and list several of the chemicals found.

Student # 2:Research two of the chemicals to give name, use, and toxicity. Use links in box above to find info about the chemicals.

 First Newspaper Story on Hazardous Material 
Industrial History

Ques. 1b. Each student should research at two more of the chemicals to give name, use, and toxicity. Be sure to look at the following as these were named specifically in the trial:
trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene
(PERC) and 1,2-trans-dichloroethylene (DCE)
1,1,1-trichloroethane, or TCA; and chloroform.)

Use links in box above to find info about the chemicals.

You may want to look at hexavalent chromium as this was found in this case and is the subject of a recent movie "Erin Brockovich".

  65 Chemicals Found in Subsurface Water this information was not used effectively in the trial
 Ques. 2a: Briefly, what is the nature of the evidence for an increase in cancer rates in Woburn. Summarize some of the key points.

Deaths From Cancer Increase in Woburn

Childhood Leukemia Answers Sought

TCE and renal cancer

Health Studies related to water at Woburn-summarizes the evidence at the time of the trial.

Ques. 2b: What are the main conclusions of the leukemia childhood follow up study? What chemicals may be the cause? Consult the answers to Ques. 1b to find out if the toxicity data for these chemicals has been reported - if not post one or more of them.

 Woburn Childhood Leukemia Follow-up Study - this study was not completed until 1997 - too late for the trial.

Birth Defects Study

Ques. 3: Several students should work on summarizing various aspects of the trial. After the first summary, following students should fill in more details to the summary rather than just starting from scratch each time. Points to look for - What did they have to prove about the water from the wells? What proof was needed? What errors were made? What did the experts say? What evidence contradicted the facts that the chemicals came from W.R. Grace?

 

Dan Kennedy - Death and Justice - Trial summary -

 Toxic Trial - Jonathan Harr talks to Dan Kennedy - short summary

Judges Ruling on the Trial -

 Ques. 4: Summarize the trial and evidence from the point of view of W. R. Grace. What are the differences in the interpretation of the evidence? What evidence points away fromo WR Grace as being the cause of contamination in the wells?

Who really should have been sued along with the companies?

First report on Barrels of waste found (not at the Grace site)

Possible Arsenic and Chromium contaimination (not connected to Grace)

Suumerizes History of Water in Woburn - Look carefully at the Wells G and H and the role played by the Water department of the city of Woburn.

Dan Kennedy - Death and Justice - Trial summary - Read the section "The Trouble with George" - the results of his testimony deflected testimony away from WR Grace.

Contaimination may have come from the river - mostly rebutted here,

Ques. 5: What is the significance of the U. S. Geologic Survey study about the Aberjona River as a source of contamination of the well water? Also look for the relevant evidence and contention in the Take Two by Dan Kennedy.

"Schlichtmann's shortcomings were never more obvious than in the testimony of his poorly prepared lead witness, George Pinder, a nationally recognized hydrogeologist whose role was to explain how contaminated ground water beneath the Beatrice and Grace properties flowed into the drinking-water wells.
Pinder put forth a bizarre theory that the wells couldn't have drawn water from the heavily polluted Aberjona River, on whose banks they had been drilled, yet could readily pull water from the Beatrice property, on the other side of the river and some distance away. Facher easily -- and brutally -- exposed Pinder's testimony as erroneous. Harr, in A Civil Action, describes Pinder's mistake as an honest one, and I believe him. But at the time, Pinder came off as someone who had been caught concocting a tale to benefit his client. ***(Government tests later revealed that the wells pulled about 40 percent of their water from the river, but that a considerable quantity of toxins from beneath the Grace and Beatrice properties had nevertheless found their way into the wells.)***"

Simulation of Possible TCE movement -from Ohio State Site

W. R. Grace still fails the test
Contaimination may have come from the river - mostly rebutted here,

Ques. 6: As a result of the trial the area became a Superfund site.What has or is being accomplished by the remediation of the Superfund sites? How are the problems of being corrected? what chemicals are being removed from the ground water? Wells G and H - EPA Superfund Site overview, background, fact sheet, etc
Ques. 7: As described in this article, what are the lessons to be learned from this case study?  A Civil Inaction Daniel D. Kennedy
Ques. 8: Comment on the accuracy of the movie to actual events. What can be learned from this case?   Epilogue: A Civil Action the Real Story
   Additional Resources:

Newspaper stories related to Civil Action
A Toxic Legacy - news paper articles by Dan Kennedy


Round two: Determine the answer to the question as a jury might consider the evidence. Write 4-6 paragraphs in support of your answer. Students should make responses to these conclusions in the third round of the debate.

Main Debate Question:
QUES. 9: DID TRICHLOROETHYLENE IN GROUND WATER FROM W.R. GRACE COMPANY CAUSE A CLUSTER OF LEUKEMIA DEATHS IN WOBURN, MASS.?