The story of Jan Schlichtmann's first lawsuit against W. R. Grace first became a best-selling book and then the John Travolta movie, A Civil Action. The movie tells the story about Schlichtmann's failed prosecution in 1986 of two companies accused of polluting the drinking water in Woburn, Mass. -- one of which is Grace. The case left the young Schlichtmann bankrupt and dispirited.
But now he is back for a rematch with Grace, this time relating to its vermiculite mine in Libby. He's counsel on a class-action product-liability suit alleging that the company's product, Zonolite Insulation, contains hazardous levels of tremolite asbestos. The product is estimated to be in millions of homes across America.
Schlichtmann was in Libby last month, at the Lincoln County Commission meeting when it was announced that a formal investigation would be launched into how -- and why -- the asbestos pollution has happened.
"The situation in Libby certainly gives a powerful window into how toxic this chemical is, and how it can wreak incredible devastation over many generations from simple exposures," says Schlichtmann. He also thinks it's time for openness and honesty on these causes.
"Literally, the community is choking to death on lies, and they need to be told the truth," he says. He adds that is the only way corporations and others will ever change the way they do business.
"The folks here understand the importance of sharing their story with the rest of the country, the rest of the world," says Schlichtmann. "And by sharing that story, hopefully people elsewhere can learn to avoid the same fate."