12 FAMILIES, GRACE SETTLE WOBURN TOXIC CASE
Twelve families agreed yesterday to settle for a reported $8 million and to withdraw their claim that chemically-contaminated Woburn drinking water caused the leukemias that killed five children and one adult.
Lawyers for the defendant in the case, W.R. Grace & Co., insisted that the settlement vindicated the firm's position in the ongoing controversy over whether chemical exposure can cause leukemia in humans.
The settlement was announced in US District Court in Boston by Judge Walter Jay Skinner, who admitted he had erred in giving instructions to the jury in a case involving claims by eight of the families and was prepared to order a new trial —a prospect that neither side apparently relished.
"I really didn't want to go through that any more," Anne Anderson, the mother of one of the victims, said during a subsequent news conference at a Woburn church. The families nevertheless asserted a victory in their campaign to "send a message to corporate America."
"They achieved what they set out to achieve … to make the companies responsible pay for what they did," said Jan Richard Schlichtmann, principal lawyer for the families.
Although the settlement laid to rest the claims that the original eight families had been pursuing since 1982, it left untouched the mystery of a larger cluster of cases of the rare blood-cell cancer called leukemia —26 in all — that has afflicted Woburn residents since 1964.
That cluster, three times larger than normal in a city the size of Woburn (population 36,000), remains under investigation by the US Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Public Health.
…At their news conference, members of the original eight Woburn families made it clear that while they had accepted the terms of the settlement, their anger continued.
"We have lost a lot more than anybody can pay us for," said Richard Toomey, whose son, Patrick, died of leukemia in 1981, at age 11. "But we went into it partly to show people that we could fight a corporation of that size and magnitude; that people banded together can get justice," he said.
Boston Globe, September 23, 1986.