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Families Find Hope, No Celebration In Settlement

September 23, 1986

WOBURN, Mass. (AP) _ After years of looking for someone to blame for leukemia that killed five children and an adult, eight families found some comfort in a settlement they hope will prevent similar tragedies elsewhere.

The amount of money to be paid by W.R. Grace & Co., which was accused of dumping toxic substances at its plant in this Boston suburb, was not disclosed.

But a report that put the settlement at $8 million was ″fairly accurate,″ said a source close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

″The settlement is substantial enough so that I would think companies will think twice,″ said Kathryn Gamache, whose husband Roland died during the trial. ″We made it unprofitable for companies to dump. They no longer can dump in the back yard and get away with it.″

The settlement was announced Monday as the second phase of a trial in U.S. District Court was to begin. Terms were not disclosed, but Grace officials said it was not admitting liability.

″In one way I’m glad it’s over with, but I’m sorry they didn’t get nailed to the wall,″ said Mrs. Gamache.

″I guess I really don’t feel victorious,″ said Anne Anderson, whose 12- year-old son died in 1981. ″I think we’ve suffered and lost too much to really feel a victory.″

Another plaintiff, Donna Robbins, whose 9-year-old son died five years ago, said the settlement would show ″a lot of people in other communities which have contaminated water that they don’t have to live with it and they can do something about it.″

The Woburn families had charged in their 1982 suit that trichloroethylene and tetrachlorethylene dumped by Grace after Oct. 1, 1964, contributed to contamination of water wells. They also contended the contamination caused the leukemia deaths of five children and Gamache, and leukemia in two other residents.

In the trial’s first phase, a jury found Grace responsible for the pollution. But upon announcement of the settlement in Boston, Judge Walter Jay Skinner said he agreed with the company that the jury had been confused about when the pollution occurred, and said that part of the trial, which took four months, would have to be repeated.

Grace attorneys said Skinner’s finding was a factor in the settlement. The plaintiffs said they were tired of the lengthy proceeding and dreaded the thought of testifying.

″There was a lot of fear going through the second phase of having to bring up a lot of the emotional part of what we’ve been through ... and having to get on the stand and go through all that is just torture thinking about it,″ Ms. Robbins said.

″It would have been a terrible, emotional strain on all the families,″ said Joan Zona, whose 8-year-old son died in 1974.

Richard Aufiero, whose 3-year-old son died in 1982, said the families’ ″anger will always be there, but in our opinion there was no other way to go.″

Grace officials, in a statement, said they were ″more convinced than ever that we did not pollute the wells and we were in no way responsible for the tragic events that affected our fellow residents in the Woburn community.

″Despite this, our concern for the additional strain on the families, litigation costs, complexity of the case and the length of the trial caused us to conclude that a settlement not only made good sense but was virtually mandated by the circumstances.″

Grace attorney Michael B. Keating said the New York-based company’s position was detailed in the settlement, reached Saturday night.

Grace has operated its Cryovac division plant in Woburn since 1961, making machinery for producing plastic wrap.

The jury in the first stage cleared Beatrice Foods Co., a co-defendant that operated a Woburn tannery. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jan R. Schlichtmann said the families have 30 days to appeal that verdict.

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