September 29, 1908: First Day of Second Jersey City Trial; 1987 W.R. Grace Indicted

Trial transcripts for the Second Jersey City trial, 3000 pages

Trial transcripts for the Second Jersey City trial, 3000 pages

September 29, 1908: In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and pipeline and was completed on May 23, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract.

At the conclusion of the first trial, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens found that two or three times per year, the water did not meet the standard of “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. He ordered that sewers be installed in the watershed or that “other plans or devices” that were equivalent to sewering the towns in the watershed could be installed. A second trial was scheduled to test whether the “other plans or devices” met the requirements of the judgment.

The second Jersey City trial started on September 29, 1908. The first order of business on the first day was a request by the defendants to postpone everything. William H. Corbin made a long statement in which he, once again, summarized the opinion and decree by Vice Chancellor Stevens. He also described in general terms the “alternate plans and devices” that the company was installing at the Boonton Reservoir site as, “…an experimental plant for the introducing of oxygen into the flow of water as it comes from the dam.”

Corbin stated that the experimental plant was put into use “last Saturday” which would have been September 26, 1908. He noted that Vice Chancellor Stevens desired daily bacteriological analyses during the first trial but the company had not gathered the data with that frequency. Corbin said that the company had been taking daily bacteriological samples over the summer and wanted to continue the sampling through the next few months to catch rainfall and significant runoff events. He also wanted more time to operate the “works” to demonstrate conclusively that the water that would be delivered to Jersey City from the plant would be “pure and wholesome.” He requested a three-month adjournment in the trial.

James B. Vredenburgh, attorney for the plaintiffs, acknowledged that a delay was needed, but he stated that two months would be sufficient. His position was that if the water was of doubtful quality, the risk to the population of Jersey City for contracting waterborne diseases was too high and no delay in finding a solution should be allowed. He was particularly concerned that a typhoid fever carrier could potentially contaminate the water above Boonton Reservoir. He also mentioned concerns with high death rates from childhood diarrhea which he said was related to the quality of the drinking water.

He also complained that Jersey City was paying the company for water delivered from Boonton Reservoir and that it would be significantly cheaper for the City to purchase the dam, reservoir and “works” rather than to continue to pay the water delivery charge. There were other issues of riparian rights along the Passaic River that needed to be settled which were agreed to by both sides.

Vredenburgh stated that it was his understanding that the treatment that would be applied to the water consisted of passing electricity through air and producing “ozone,” which would then be introduced into the water. There is no mention in the trial transcripts, exhibits, or reports of the company testing ozone or proposing its use. The company’s insistence that they would be adding oxygen to the water to sterilize it may have given Vredenburgh and the City the impression that ozone was the treatment method selected.

Based on his questions and comments, the Special Master for the second trial, William J. Magie, clearly understood the arguments for adjournment by both counsels. Even though he was not up to speed on all aspects of the case, he could rely on Vice Chancellor’s opinion that required him to carefully examine the “alternate plans and devices.” He agreed to a three-month adjournment and scheduled the second day of trial for January 5, 1909.

Reference: McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

September 29, 1987New York Times headline–W.R. Grace is Charged with Lying About Waste. A Federal grand jury today indicted W. R. Grace & Company on charges that it lied to the United States Environmental Protection Agency about the use of chemicals and waste disposal techniques at its industrial plant in Woburn, Mass.

Officials at Grace, a diversified company with headquarters in New York, denied issuing any false statements and termed the grand jury’s charges ”unjust and without merit.”

The indictment today follows a lawsuit last summer in which eight families from Woburn asserted that toxic discharges from the Grace plant had contaminated their water wells, causing six deaths from leukemia and numerous illnesses in the families. In July, a jury found that Grace had contaminated the water with two solvents but was unable to determine the date at which the chemicals began to pollute the wells. $8 Million Settlement Reported The case was settled out of court in September. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed, but Grace is reported to have paid the families $8 million, although it denied that its chemicals had caused the diseases.”

 

W.R. Grace and Contaminated Wells

W.R. Grace and Contaminated Wells

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