Civil Active -- the Environmental Story Behind the Film</B>

December 29, 1998

"A Civil Action" is the name of a new movie starring John Travolta, which premiered in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day, and will open nationwide on January 8th. Based on the book by Jonathan Harr, the film tells the story of how two of the nation’s largest corporations–WR Grace and Beatrice Foods–stood accused of contaminating the water supply of Woburn, Massachusetts. Some thirty residents alleged a range of medical disorders, including cancer. Several children died as a result of the contamination. Ultimately, a jury cleared Beatrice of the accusation, while WR Grace reached a settlement to pay the families eight million dollars. But the film "A Civil Action" is not only about Woburn, Massachusetts. It’s also about dozens of other communities across the country where large corporations may be contaminating the environment, with devastating consequences for the residents, especially children.


  • Jan Schlichtmann, maverick attorney who brought the case to trial, played in the film by John Travolta.
  • Lawrie Mott, MS, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council, who directs its Children’s Environmental Health Initiative.
  • Richard Aufiero, depicted in "A Civil Action." He works at Harvard University.

Related links:

  • Civil Active–Civil Active is an independent educational effort produced by Environmental Media Services.
  • Civil Action Update–Site produced by the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance in response to the film "A Civil Action."