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Computer model offers new tool to probe Woburn toxic waste site

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A computer model developed at Ohio State University is giving researchers a new understanding of how municipal wells at a famous toxic waste site in Woburn, Massachusetts, came to be contaminated, and how much contamination was delivered to residents.

As dramatized in the book and movie A Civil Action, a cluster of childhood leukemia cases in Woburn led to a lengthy court battle in the 1980s, during which three commercial companies were accused of dumping toxic chemicals that entered two of the towns water supply wells.

The wells - known as G and H -- operated from 1964 to 1979, when they were permanently shut down by the state of Massachusetts. In the trial, the jury found one company -- manufacturer of industrial machines W.R. Grace and Co. -- liable for the contamination.

The Ohio State computer model, which simulates the movement of a plume of contamination as it spreads underground away from its source, is the most extensive of its kind ever used at Woburn. It also uses new information acquired after the 1985 trial, including data from two additional sources of contamination.

The results of the computer model cant absolutely explain how the Woburn wells became contaminated and cant be used to assign liability, but they do provide some plausible scenarios of what happened. The results suggest the chemicals from W.R. Grace probably never reached the wells and, if they did, they arrived near the time the wells were shut down.

The most plausible scenario is that much of the toxic chemicals in the wells came from the Beatrice Foods Corp. and Hemingway Trucking Co.
properties, said E. Scott Bair, professor and chair of geological sciences at
Ohio State. Most surprising though, a substantial amount of the groundwater
pumped by the wells originated in the nearby Aberjona River, which is another
likely source of chemical contamination.

The data collected by EPA at wells G and H indicate th
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Contact: Maura Metheny
Methenym@denison.edu
740-587-6487
Ohio State University
5-Nov-2003


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