From 1979 to 1989 I worked as a staff reporter and editor for The Daily Times Chronicle, of Woburn, Massachusetts. During that time I covered the Woburn toxic-waste lawsuit, a landmark federal case brought by eight families who accused industries of contaminating their water, causing illness and death. I have also written about the case for the Boston Phoenix. Below are some of the more significant Woburn-related articles, starting with Charles Ryan’s groundbreaking work for The Daily Times Chronicle.
Charles Ryan’s archives
Charles Ryan, a former reporter for The Daily Times Chronicle, broke the most important early stories in the Woburn toxic-waste tragedy: the discovery of contaminants in East Woburn’s drinking water in May 1979, and the revelation that the city’s leukemia rate was higher than should be expected for a community of its size.
Death and Justice
A lengthy monograph on the trial and why it ended so unsatisfactorily for the plaintiffs. Written in 1989, updated for the Web in 1996.
Stalking Woburn’s Mystery Killer
An article I wrote for the Winter 1989-’90 issue of MetroNorth Magazine on a project by MIT scientists to link chemical exposure to genetic mutations.
The unpleasant truth about cleaning up hazardous waste. From the Boston Phoenix of 12/24/93.
Jonathan Harr talks about “A Civil Action,” his heartbreaking legal thriller about the case. From the Boston Phoenix of 08/18/95.
Arrogance cost Jan Schlichtmann the victory he sought in the Woburn toxic-waste trial 11 years ago. But never mind. Now Hollywood’s “A Civil Action” is turning him into a winner. From the Boston Phoenix of 01/02/98.
A Civil Action: The Real Story
“Hollywood is set to release its version of how toxic dumping devastated Woburn. Dan Kennedy, who’s covered the story for 15 years, looks beyond the hype.” Boston Phoenix cover story of 12/18/98.
What Is a “Model Corporate Citizen”?
W.R. Grace launched a public-relations offensive that made heavy use of my 1993 reference to the company as “one of Woburn’s model corporate citizens.” See why I no longer thought Grace is acting like a “model corporate citizen.” Letter to the Boston Globe of 12/30/98.
Former Woburn Tanner Sues Author, Publishers
John J. Riley, the former owner of the Woburn tannery that was at issue in the toxic-waste case, has filed a libel suit against Jonathan Harr, author of “A Civil Action,” and against his publishers. From the Boston Phoenix of 01/08/99.
The New Yorker Ignores Leukemia in Woburn
The venerable magazine published an article in its 02/08/99 issue arguing that it is virtually impossible to trace cancer clusters to environmental contamination. Yet the article failed even to mention a landmark study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. From the Boston Phoenix of 02/12/99.
Woburn Postcard: Civil Inaction
The film version of “A Civil Action” promotes a fictional image of an unresponsive government bureaucracy. That’s not what happened in Woburn — but the truth is dispiriting nevertheless. From The New Republic of 03/15/99.
Erin Brockovich and Jan Schlichtmann are battling over Salem’s toxic power plant. More intriguing, though, is Schlichtmann’s battle with himself. From the Boston Phoenix of 05/12/00.