Case Study: Environmental Science

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[. . .] Also, the defendants claimed that they only dumped tiny amounts of TCE and PCE. As with many other civil suits filed against companies accused of causing cancer clusters, the defendants were severely hampered by the nearly impossible task of proving a direct link from a contaminate and cancer. As Atul Gawande pointed out in his 1999 article "The Cancer-Cluster Myth" most cancers, like leukemia, are common enough so that it is difficult to prove without a shadow of a doubt that one specific environmental hazard could be the cause.

While lawyers like Schlichtmann are glorified in the movies, (a book about this case was made into a movie with actor John Travolta playing in the staring role) in reality American laws and legal proceedings make it nearly impossible for plaintiffs to win in law suits against corporations suspected of committing health violations. The problem is that plaintiffs must prove a link to cancer without a shadow of a doubt and cancer, a disease caused by abnormal cell multiplication, is too common and complex to be linked to one source (Gawande, 1999). Additionally, most corporations being sued can afford to hire legions of top-notch lawyers while plaintiffs, already burdened with medical costs, must settle for finding an altruistic, idealistic lawyer willing to front the cash and time necessary to make any gains in such a case.

Conversely, it can be argued that if the laws in this country made it easier to find corporations guilty of causing cancer clusters, if plaintiffs did not have to show direct correlation to win a case, then fewer corporations would want to do business in the United States. Corporations seek to make a profit, which requires making more money than what is spent. Therefore, corporations seek to do business in areas that not only produce lucrative results, but also have lower operation costs. If corporations were more likely to be held liable for health concerns that arose within the vicinity of their plants and other operations, they'd be more likely to move out of that area and conduct business in a more welcoming climate.

In the end, Schlichtmann should have been more realistic and less idealistic about his goals. Earlier in the trial, Beatrice Foods offered an $8 million settlement to Schlichtmann and the defendants (Koscielski, 2010). Given the many hurtles Schlichtmann faced in this case, having to prove not only that the contaminated water caused the children's leukemia, but also that the companies' negligence contaminated the wells, I would have taken the settlement. It would have saved everyone involved time, money, and anxiety.

At the same time, it is understandable why Schlichtmann refused the offer. He had on his side the sick and dying children of decent American families and what appeared at the time to be clear evidence of the companies' culpability in the children's health. Along with the Harvard School of Public Health study, Schlichtmann was helped by images of rusting, discarded barrels lying in fields near the plants and a wave of other environmental health cases such as Love Canal in New York. But Schlichtmann did not anticipate the judge to be so difficult and for details such as the wrongful death claims of three of the children being questioned because they died after the statue of limitations for such cases ran out (Anderson, 1986).

In this country, companies cannot be held accountable merely on suspicion of committing health violations. A plaintiff must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that company's guilt. However, the Patriot Act allows law enforcement to arrest people of certain backgrounds on the suspicion of participating in terrorist activities. Until this country passes a law that treats polluters the same way the Patriot Act treats people of Arab and Middle-Eastern heritage, it is advisable to settle when taking on a company accused of causing cancer clusters.

Works Cited

Anne Anderson et al. Plaintiffs v. W.R. Grace Co. et al. Defendants. No. 82-1672-S. United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. 405-416

Gawande, A. (1999, February 8). The cancer-cluster myth. The New Yorker.

Hall, T., Minklei, N, and Sween, K. (2010). Examination of Contamination. The Woburn Case. Retrieved April 29, 2011 from

Koscielski, G. (2010, March 31). Environmental law. case no. 1: Anderson et al. v. W.R. Grace et al. Unpublished manuscript.

Masters, B.A. (1986, February 19). SPH study to be used as evidence… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Environmental Science.  (2011, April 29).  Retrieved August 22, 2019, from

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"Environmental Science."  29 April 2011.  Web.  22 August 2019. <>.

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"Environmental Science."  April 29, 2011.  Accessed August 22, 2019.