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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.?


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"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 LEUKEMIA DEATHS IN WOBURN, MASS.?

Each student should read at least the summary of A Civil Action to get an overall view of the original trial.

Round one - Summarization of the Evidence (4 points):
Then each student will be assigned ONCE to research a particular aspect of the case and post a summary of the findings. See the table below for the assignments, brief questions to consider, and links to the Discussion Board. These assignments should be completed as soon as possible in the first few days of the week of the issue discussion.

Round two - Analysis of Evidence and Vote on the Question/Verdict (5 points):
After the evidence has been posted, each student should go back and read what the other students have written, analyze the evidence, and write 4-6 paragraphs of analysis in support of your answer to the main question. Look at the question carefully as it is phrased as in the original trial - does the fault lie with chemicals from the W.R. Grace Company? Do the chemicals in question cause leukemia? Put whether you are voting YES or NO at the beginning of your discussion posting.

Round three - Response: (1 Point):
Write responses to add additional comments and try to change opinions. The objective is to reach a verdict that everyone agrees with - if that is possible.

 
Extra Credit: If you make a second response or a rebuttal or do another research type question, you can get up to one point of extra credit. Please label this second response as extra credit.

More details about the Discussion Format.

Please read the discussion responses before you decide which questions to answer. Try to answer questions that no one else has answered or respond to answers already present.

Check out the discussion responses on the
Blackboard
- Discussion Pages

Write out answers to questions in a WORD PROCESSOR
and then copy and paste into
Blackboard


Round one: Answer the assigned question. For extra credit, answer a second question of your choice.

 Research the Answer to Questions
 

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.

 Std. ID. 1, 11, 21

 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".

 Std. ID. 2, 12, 22

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
Ques. 2a: Briefly, what is the nature of the evidence for an increase in cancer rates in Woburn. Summarize some of the key points  Std. ID. 3, 13, 23
 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.  Std. ID. 4, 14, 24

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
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?  Std. ID. 5, 15, 25

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
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 does Grace cite that points away from it as the cause of contamination in the wells?  Std. ID. 6, 16, 26

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
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 Trial Summary by Dan Kennedy.  Std. ID. 7, 17, 27

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
Ques. 6: 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?  Std. ID. 8, 18, 28

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
Ques. 7: As described in this article, what are the lessons to be learned from this case study?  Std. ID. 9, 19, 29

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 Research the Answer to Questions
 
Ques. 8: Comment on the accuracy of the movie to actual events. What can be learned from this case?  Std. ID. 10, 20, 30

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Round two: Determine the answer to the question as a jury might examine the evidence. Write 4-6 paragraphs in support of your answer.

Round three: Students should make responses to these conclusions or respond to any of the questions above.

 

 Research the Answer to Questions
 

QUES. 9: TRIAL VERDICT

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

 ALL STUDENTS

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