There are few things in life that could be worse than loosing you child to such a horrible disease as leukemia. One can only imagine having such a tragedy repeat itself throughout you community time after time. To compound such tragedies, imagine being poisoned yourself and having to fight some of the largest local corporations to prove the truth and get it stopped. This is the community setting for Jonathan Harr's true-to-life legal thriller A Civil Action. The book was an award winner for "Best Seller" in 1995 and was named the 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award.
The setting of the book is in the New England state of Woburn, Massachusetts. This is a sleepy little community that is overcast by local factories. The factories have been contaminating the ground and water supplies for several years by dumping a chemical known as TCE. Though nobody would openly admit to using the chemical, dumping the chemical, or linking it to leukemia, this deadly byproduct would later prove to be the key to the emotionally and financially draining drama.
Jan Schlichtmann is the main character of this true story. As a prominent attorney from Boston, who has an ego to match his bank account, he seems obsessed to find a way to consistently find bigger settlements and make a name for himself in the legal community. Though slightly inexperienced, he seems to be a natural in the courtroom, and even more so in the "game" of out-of-court-settlements. Jan owed part of his success due to the fact he surrounded himself with people who "counterbalanced" his personality. It is through their support in most of this story that he was able to negotiate through the tribulations. But through a host of events, Jan ended up spearheading the Woburn case that ended up costing him dearly. As expected, it was his strong attributes of greed and ego that brought him to this climax and ultimately let him down.
The W.R. Grace Company, Riley Eannery, and Unifirst Corporation were prominent factories in Wobourn. Jan speculated they were to have illegally dumped a dangerous carcinogen known as TCE into the ground, sewer, and water systems of the Woborn community. These poisons were thought by Jan, and the community, to have polluted two water wells that acted as a water supply for the community. Many of the people who worked at the factories experienced many medical problems such as cancer and died at young ages. Community members experienced numerous medial problems such as flu-like symptoms, memory loss, cancers, leukemia, burning eyes, and skin, and death. The water over the years was said to have gone from natural, to smelling, to dark and dangerous.
Though Jan put off the Woburn case for a long time, he took it thinking that a public interest firm would brunt the cost and workload. As it turned out, he and his associates had to take on the companies, and their prominent attorneys, single handedly. Even the EPA couldn't conclude a connection in the...