Woburn, Massachusetts: Toxic Town


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


Woburn, Massachusetts is an example of a toxic town (for a discussion of toxic towns see the entry in this dictionary). The case is well-known and the subject of the movie Civil Action starring John Travolta.

The problem of ground water contamination in Woburn began to be exposed in the mid-1970s when residents first came to recognize the high rates of childhood leukemia and other illnesses Woburn children suffered. It was 1979 after significant efforts by local residents to establish their claims before evidence of ground water contamination in some of Woburn’s well water was discovered. The well water pollution was eventually linked to facilities owned by W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods. The contaminates included trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PERC or PCE), both of which possess carcinogenic properties according to the National Toxicology Program ( TCE/PERC/PCE). The ground water exposure was linked to Grace and Beatrice’s illegal disposal of these substances (for EPA summary materials see: ground water).

A civil suit was filed by several families in 1982 related to cases of leukemia contracted by their children. The trail began in 1986. After initiation of the trial, plaintiffs settled the case out of court. In later proceedings finalized in 1991, the US EPA reached a $69.5 million dollar settlement with several companies for cleaning up the site (see summary of various trail proceedings see: trial information).

Further Reading

In this dictionary see:”Toxic Towns” entry


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