Erin Brockovich: The Ongoing Fight for Clean Water
Whether or not you have seen her eponymously-titled film, Erin Brockovich's environmental efforts deserve attention. Although 20 years have passed since she spearheaded the largest direct-action lawsuit in history, she is by no means out of the spotlight. As a passionate environmental activist, she is determined to remain a spokesperson for those suffering from environmental contamination. Brockovich was one of the early voices speaking out about the Flint, Michigan drinking water catastrophe and she continues to advocate for environmental justice nationwide.
Brockovich Et Al vs. Pacific Gas & Electric Company
In the 1990s, Brockovich was a single mother in California’s San Fernando Valley. While working as a legal assistant, she stumbled upon the medical records that would start her activist career and lead to her fame.
Brockovich discovered that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) was responsible for slowly poisoning the drinking water supply of nearby residents of Hinkley, California for more than 30 years. As the lead plaintiff, Brockovich led a class action lawsuit against PG&E, maintaining that the utility company knowingly allowed contaminants to leak into the town’s groundwater–most notably hexavalent chromium (chromium VI), a known carcinogen.
The court ultimately ruled in favor of Brockovich and Hinkley residents. They determined that the town’s high fertility- and cancer-related illnesses were in fact attributable to PG&E’s neglect. In 1996, PG&E paid $333 million worth of damages to more than 600 residents, making it the largest direct action settlement in U.S. history. While some residents believe that Brockovich abandoned Hinkley too early, her pioneering role in bringing the case into the public eye is indisputable.
Back to Fight in Flint
Erin Brockovich’s activism did not end with the winning verdict. The Hinkley case catapulted her into national consciousness and she began receiving thousands of emails every month requesting her to help communities facing a variety of contamination issues.
Brockovich has since specialized in more than just chromium VI spills, as is evident in her involvement in Flint. Taking up the reins as a spokesperson for those suffering in the Michigan town (well before the state government acted), she helped attract attention to the lead-contaminated drinking water via a Facebook post. Brockovich’s advocacy was vital. Her efforts to get Flint’s water quality taken seriously preceded the town’s reconnection to Detroit water by several months and the governor’s declaration of a “State of Emergency” by nearly a year.
Find out more about the timeline of events in Flint.
Erin Brockovich's role as a spokesperson continues to help communities around around the world that often struggle to be heard by people in power.
Brockovich is now advocating on behalf of the Pawnee Nation as they fight against the environmentally-harmful practice of hydraulic fracturing (i.e. fracking) for natural gas. Brockovich is trying to keep hydraulic fracturing company’s accountable to the communities they work in. At Simple Water we think this is critical, given that fracking’s impact on drinking water is often negative.
Brockovich operates a map that allows people across the world (like you) to drop “pins” on the map and describe problems their community faces related to drinking water, medical negligence, and more.
As Brockovich quickly (and unfortunately) learned, Hinkley was not a “one-off” example. The United States has a national water crisis on its hands–one that often goes unnoticed for far too long.
If you are concerned about contaminants in your water, SimpleWater’s home water-testing kit, Tap Score, can help. It tests for more than 100 contaminants, and we provide comprehensive analysis, clearly illustrated results, and unbiased information regarding treatment options.