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et al. v. W.R. Grace Anne Anderson and Beatrice Foods: 1986 - Taking On Two Giants, Verdict Is Thrown Out By Judge, Judge Denies Request For New Trial

children leukemia woburn company

Plaintiff: Anne Anderson et al.
Defendant: W.R. Grace and Company, Beatrice Foods, Unifirst Company
Plaintiff Claim: Contamination of public water resulting in deaths and serious illnesses
Chief Defense Lawyer: Michael Keating
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiff: Jan Schlictmann
Judge: Walter Jay Skinner
Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Trial: March 10-May 26, 1986
Verdict: The jury found W.R. Grace Co. guilty and cleared Beatrice Foods; the judge threw out the verdict and Grace settled with the defendants

SIGNIFICANCE: One of the first high profile suits involving pollution by a major corporation, it also demonstrated the difficulty of proving a direct connection between cancer and specific chemicals.

From 1965 to the early 1980s, residents of Woburn, Massachusetts, particularly children, began contracting leukemia at a rate in excess of the national norm. The citizens of Woburn wondered why, and some felt they had found the cause—industrial pollution. In 1982, Anne Anderson and several other townspeople sued the W.R. Grace Company, Beatrice Foods, and the Unifirst Company, claiming that these corporations were responsible for contaminating wells that supplied water to the town. The plaintiffs were the families of seven children who had contracted leukemia, five of whom were already dead. The parents of these children claimed that the companies' manufacturing operations had polluted two city-owned wells, which in turn caused their children's disease. The parents also claimed that the contamination was responsible for the unusually high number of cases of leukemia among other children in the town of Woburn, as well as cases of liver disease and central nervous system disorders.

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