Module 1 - Timeline of Events

Module Goals

  • Discuss and list what students consider to be important events and their dates before, during, and after the trial while reading 'A Civil Action' during the first week of class
  • Provide a chronological list of important events for later use in a mock trial
Student Assignment


The date to begin a timeline listing the important events that led to the Woburn Toxic Trial is problematic. A possible starting date is 1964, the year well G was constructed and went online. Alternatively, contamination of Woburn's water supplies dates back to the early 1800s when salts and chemicals from the local tanning industry first impacted streams and lakes in the town. No matter where you choose to start the timeline, the struggle between industry and the quality and quantity of local water resources used for municipal supplies has been long standing and contentious.

When did impacts to groundwater first occur?

Although the plaintiffs' case focused on chlorinated solvents emanating from the Beatrice and W.R. Grace properties, part of the defendants' strategy was to focus on the long-term issues related to contamination in the entire Aberjona River watershed. Many instances of historic contamination were brought out in the trial. This information became part of the jury's realization and the resident's shock that pollution of its municipal water supplies was an issue that Woburn residents had dealt with for generations.

Events leading to the trial

The most significant event occurred in May 1979, when the City of Woburn was ordered to close wells G and H in response to the discovery by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that toxic chemicals were present in the water produced by both wells. This event, combined with Reverend Bruce Young's general inquiry regarding local families who had leukemia diagnosed in one or more family members, led to the initiation of the lawsuit against W.R. Grace and Beatrice. The trial was a landmark in establishing procedures and precedents related to environmental damages from improper disposal of hazardous wastes.

Student Assignment

More Information:

Trial Process | Science and the Law | Trial Chronology | Newspaper Articles

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