A Civil Action

by Jonathan Harr

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Richard Aufiero is the first Woburn plaintiff to be deposed by Beatrice and Grace. The Aufieros lost their son, Jarrod, to leukemia, and they share the heartbreaking story of their son’s dying in the car on the way to the hospital. After Richard’s testimony, Facher believes he cannot win the case, especially if it goes to trial. He is deeply moved by Richard’s testimony and has seven more families to depose.

Schlichtmann begins his own depositions, starting with Grace’s employees. They originally state they never disposed of chemicals on their property, but the EPA found several barrels which once contained TCE and other harmful substances. Cheeseman offers forth Paul Shalline, head of safety and maintenance at the Woburn plant. The deposition lasts two days, but Shalline denies knowing anything about improper waste removal.

Schlichtmann calls the Grace plant’s painter, Thomas Barbas, after hearing that TCE was used in the paint shop. Barbas admits to having dumped cleaning solvents into the drainage ditch behind the plant and to having told Shalline it was a bad idea. Shalline reportedly agreed to change protocol and put the substances into 55-gallon drums. However, Barbas is unsure what happened to those barrels. He says he may have heard rumors, but he didn’t see or hear of improper disposal.

Next, Schlichtmann deposes Al Love, a Grace plant clerk. Love admits to seeing the 55-gallon barrels being dumped in the backyard. Love gives the names Tom Barbas and Joe Meola, saying he saw those two men dump the barrels into a ditch. Since Love lives on Pine Street, Conway tells Schlichtmann to ask about Anne and his family. Cheeseman and one of Facher’s colleagues begin objecting to these questions. This upsets Love, who now feels compelled to tell Schlichtmann the truth. He agrees the water was bad in the 70s and that most of his family has birth defects or other health issues.

A week later, Love calls Cheeseman and tells him he isn’t sure which side he’s on anymore. He doesn’t feel Cheeseman is supporting his family’s best interest. Cheeseman goes to see Love at work and tells him he doesn’t believe the water caused any health issues, but Love disagrees.

Love’s wife tells him to go see Anne and tell her what he knows. Anne welcomes him with open arms, and they both feel much better after sharing their stories. Anne asks Love to talk to Schlichtmann.

The next evening, Schlichtmann is invited to Love’s home, where Love tells him the rumors he’s heard at the plant. Supposedly, more than fifty drums were buried on the property. Love also mentions a former plant electrician, Robert Pasquerilla. Love calls Pasquerilla, and he confirms that his supervisor, Frank Kelly, told him about the barrels. Shortly after the call, Pasquerilla arrives at Love’s house and admits to having thrown the waste in the back lot, as instructed by his superiors. He also states that Meola drained the liquid out back into the gully. He says that all such orders came from Shalline and Eddie Orazine. Schlichtmann asks Pasquerilla to call Barbas, which he does, but Barbas refuses to speak. Pasquerilla ends the phone call saying he will tell the truth and won’t take the fall for a plant manager Vin Forte.

With this new information, Schlichtmann contacts the assistant US Attorney for environmental affairs and has Love meet with him. After an uncomfortable meeting, the attorney says he will begin an investigation.

A week later, Barbas calls Cheeseman and admits to personally dumping the barrels with the help of Meola. Cheeseman is angry but understands that Barbas did...

(This entire section contains 1348 words.)

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what he was told and spoke out of fear. Cheeseman calls Schlichtmann and tells him what he knows. Schlichtmann deposes Barbas again, and this time, Barbas admits to dumping the waste and provides the names Meola and Kelly. He states that Shalline told them to do it.

Schlichtmann tries to depose Meola, who claims he cannot speak English. He gets Meola an Italian interpreter, who relays the message that Meola is old, knows nothing, and thinks Barbas is lying. 

As part of the deposition Schlichtmann goes to the Grace plant, where Barbas admits that Shalline showed him where to dump the waste. Even an assembly worker admits he was told to dump the product after use. One problem still remains: Schlichtmann can’t prove that TCE existed because the plant’s records “had been routinely destroyed.”

Things change when Schlichtmann finds a piece of paper from 1973 with Shalline’s initials that shows the purchase of 150 gallons of TCE. It was in this year that a safety warning came out regarding the substance, and the Grace policy changed. Shalline was supposed to remove the product, but he didn’t comply, asking Barbas to move the barrels outside instead of having them legally removed. Piecing these facts together, Schlichtmann believes there are two dump pits, but since Forte and Kelly are dead, the truth is lost.

The federal investigation subpoenas six Grace workers to testify in front of a grand jury. At the same time, Cheeseman finds out that Love has been talking to Schlichtmann and formally questions him at work. Cheeseman knows he can’t have Love fired, because it would appear unethical. Instead, he implies that Love will be fired if he speaks to Schlichtmann again.

Schlichtmann also has to prove the chemicals migrated to the wells. He hires geologists and engineers to inspect the area. While this work is taking place, Skinner allows extensions to provide more time to collect evidence. Now, Schlichtmann needs to focus on Beatrice. He deposes John Riley, manager of the Beatrice tannery, but it proceeds poorly. Schlichtmann asks about how the chemicals were used, but the questioning results in Riley’s dumping his water on Schlictmann’s twelve-thousand-dollar conference table. Large amounts of PERC were found on the land, but Riley refuses to take ownership of the substance. Schlichtmann is convinced Riley dumped waste, having seen the results with his own eyes, but he has no records.

Schlichtmann hires a private investigator to find former employees of the Beatrice tannery. The investigator finds one employee who provides some names, but most of the men have died from some form of cancer. The investigation leads Schlichtmann to Joe Palino, who is currently dying of lung cancer. Like the others, he doesn’t know of any dumping of chemicals, but he does recall the use of TCE. However, when formally deposed, he refuses to state they used the chemical.

Schlichtmann gets a break when he finds an old document wherein a health inspector records having found waste on Riley’s property; the inspection was prompted by citizens’ complaints. The inspector told Riley to dispose of the waste, but Riley felt he could do whatever he wanted on his land. Schlichtmann sends his investigator to look for the townsfolk who complained. Ruth Turner has lived down the street from the tannery her entire life and explains how the scenery has changed from nature to debris because of Riley. Ruth and her husband have been woken up in the middle of the night multiple times by the sound of barrels being dumped from a truck.

Another resident tells Schlichtmann he played on the land as a kid. One day, he found a flare, lit it, and threw it into a pond, which went up in flames. This was not the only fire on the property, and the fire department urged Riley to take care of the “leaking drums,” yet nothing was done. 

It seems everyone knows the land is toxic except for Riley, and now Schlichtmann wonders if he and Whitney have some sort of deal. He begins investigating Whitney Barrel and finds a dirty operation. A former worker confirms illegal dumping on multiple occasions and the use of TCE. Unfortunately, Jack Whitney died, and the company went out of business. Since Riley refuses to change his story, Schlichtmann is running out of evidence and time.


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