Erin Brockovich (née Pattee; born June 22, 1960) is an American paralegal, consumer advocate, and environmental activist who was instrumental in building a case against Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) involving groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California for attorney Ed Masry in 1993. Their successful lawsuit was the subject of the Oscar-winning film, Erin Brockovich (2000), starring Julia Roberts as Brockovich and Albert Finney as Masry.

Erin Brockovich
Brockovich in 2019
Born
Erin Pattee

(1960-06-22) June 22, 1960 (age 63)
OccupationConsumer advocate
Spouses
Shawn Brown
(m. 1982; div. 1987)
Steven Brockovich
(m. 1989; div. 1990)
Eric L. Ellis
(m. 1998; div. 2012)
Children3

Since then, Brockovich has become a media personality, hosting the TV series Challenge America with Erin Brockovich on ABC and Final Justice on Zone Reality, and became president of Brockovich Research & Consulting. She also works as a consultant for the New York law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg,[1] which has a focus on personal injury claims for asbestos exposure, and Shine Lawyers in Australia.[2] She worked as a consultant for the now-defunct California law firm Girardi & Keese.[3][4]

Early life edit

Brockovich Erin Pattee was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the daughter of Betty Jo (born O'Neal; c. 1923–2008), a journalist, and Frank Pattee (1924–2011), an industrial engineer and football player. She has two brothers, Frank Jr. and Thomas (1954–1992), and a sister, Jodie.[5] She graduated from Lawrence High School, then attended Kansas State University, in Manhattan, Kansas, and graduated with an Associate in Applied Arts Degree from Wade College in Dallas, Texas. Brockovich is dyslexic.[6][7]

Pacific Gas & Electric litigation edit

In 1993, Brockovich became a whistleblower when she spoke out against PG&E after finding widespread unexplained illness in the town of Hinkley, California. She became instrumental in suing the utility company on behalf of the town.[8][9][10] The case (Anderson, et al. v. Pacific Gas & Electric, file BCV 00300) alleged contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium (also written as "chromium 6", "chromium VI", "Cr-VI" or "Cr-6") in the town.[11] At the center of the case was a facility, the Hinkley compressor station, built in 1952 as a part of a natural-gas pipeline connecting to the San Francisco Bay Area. Between 1952 and 1966, PG&E used hexavalent chromium in a cooling tower system to fight corrosion. The waste water was discharged to unlined ponds at the site, and some of the waste water percolated into the groundwater, affecting an area of approximately 2 square miles (5.2 km2) near the plant.[12] The Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) put the PG&E site under its regulations in 1968.

The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in United States history to that date. Masry & Vititoe, the law firm for which Brockovich was a legal clerk, received $133.6 million of that settlement, and Brockovich received $2.5 million as part of her fee.[13]

A study released in 2010 by the California Cancer Registry suggested that cancer rates in Hinkley "remained unremarkable from 1988 to 2008".[14] John W. Morgan, an epidemiologist involved in the study said that the 196 cases of cancer reported during the most recent survey of 1996 through 2008 were fewer than what he would expect based on demographics and the regional rate of cancer.[14] However, in June 2013, Mother Jones magazine featured a critique from the Center for Public Integrity of the author's work on the later epidemiological studies, pointing out, for example, that the affected area of Hinkley had been bulldozed by 1996.[15]

As of 2019, average Cr-6 levels for water from wells in Hinkley were still peaking at 100 times California's maximum contaminant level for the compound at over 1,000 parts per billion,[16] even though, by 2021, PG&E claimed they had cleaned up 70% of the contamination.[17] In October 2022, even though the EPA announced Cr-6 was likely carcinogenic if consumed in drinking water, The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobby group, disputed their finding.[18]

Other litigation edit

Working with Edward L. Masry, a lawyer based in Thousand Oaks, California, Brockovich went on to participate in other anti-pollution lawsuits. One suit accused the Whitman Corporation of chromium contamination in Willits, California. Another, which listed 1,200 plaintiffs, alleged contamination near PG&E's Kettleman Hills compressor station in Kings County, California, along the same pipeline as the Hinkley site. The Kettleman suit was settled for $335 million in 2006.[19]

In 2003, after experiencing problems with mold contamination in her own home in the Conejo Valley, Brockovich received settlements of $430,000 from two parties, and an undisclosed amount from a third party, to settle her lawsuit alleging toxic mold in her Agoura Hills, California, home.[20] Brockovich then became a prominent activist and educator in the area as well.

 
Brockovich, speaking at the Arizona Ultimate Women's Expo in Phoenix, Arizona, October 2016

Brockovich and Masry filed suit against the Beverly Hills Unified School District in 2003, in which the district was accused of harming the health and safety of its students by allowing a contractor to operate a cluster of oil wells on campus.[21] Brockovich and Masry alleged that 300 cancer cases were linked to the oil wells. Subsequent testing and epidemiological investigation failed to corroborate a substantial link, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Wendell Mortimer granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs.[22] In May 2007, the school district announced that it was to be paid $450,000 as reimbursement for legal expenses.[23][24]

Brockovich assisted in the filing of a lawsuit against Prime Tanning Corp. of St. Joseph, Missouri, in April 2009. The lawsuit claims that waste sludge from the production of leather, containing high levels of hexavalent chromium, was distributed to farmers in northwest Missouri to use as fertilizer on their fields. It is believed to be a potential cause of an abnormally high number of brain tumors around the town of Cameron, Missouri. Prior to the lawsuit, the site was investigated by the EPA and at the time, the agency found "no detections of total chromium", and added, "we would like to get any specific information from this law firm as soon as we can so we can evaluate it, and we intend to ask for that directly." The EPA, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Health and a state epidemiologist had been investigating what residents believed were a high number of brain tumors in the area — more than 70 since 1996. The epidemiologist had stated the numbers did not seem abnormally high.[25]

In June 2009, Brockovich began investigating a case of contaminated water in Midland, Texas.[26] "Significant amounts" of hexavalent chromium were found in the water of more than 40 homes in the area, some of which have now been fitted with state-monitored filters on their water supply.[26] Brockovich said: "The only difference between here and Hinkley is that I saw higher levels here than I saw in Hinkley."[26]

In 2012, Brockovich became involved in the mysterious case of 14 students from LeRoy, New York, who began reporting perplexing medical symptoms, including tics and speech difficulties.[27] Brockovich believed environmental pollution from the 1970 Lehigh Valley Railroad derailment was the cause and conducted testing in the area. Brockovich was supposed to return to LeRoy to present her findings, but never did; in the meantime, the students' doctors determined the cause was mass psychogenic illness, and that the media exposure was exacerbating the symptoms.[28] No environmental causes were found after repeat testing, and the students improved once the media attention died down.[29]

In early 2016, Brockovich became involved in potential litigation against Southern California Gas for the Aliso Canyon gas leak, a large methane leak from its underground storage facility near the community of Porter Ranch, north of Los Angeles.

In early 2023, within hours of the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Brockovich started getting calls for assistance from the community about the toxic chemical fires.[30] She has been interviewed on various news outlets, from independent media[31] to national networks.[32][33] A few weeks later, Brockovich traveled to East Palestine, where she was interviewed by local media, and appeared at one of several high-profile town hall meetings on Friday night, Feb. 24th.[34] At the meeting, Brockovich and an attorney highlighted decades of toxic chemical train derailments.[35] Among Brockovich's many concerns is the potential groundwater contamination after chemicals were, as she describes it, dumped in a big hole in the ground and burned off.[30][36] A recurring theme of her appearances is that the nation has, for decades, in the name of profits over people, failed to undertake infrastructure improvements, enact tighter regulations, and adequately protect the health, safety and welfare of communities from long-term bodily harm and environmental damage.[citation needed] Brockovich continues to cite the Hinkley case and Flint water crisis, as well as the 2013 Lac-Megantic, Canada oil train catastrophe.[37][38]

Awards edit

Movies and television edit

Brockovich's work in bringing litigation against Pacific Gas & Electric was the focus of the 2000 feature film Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts in the title role. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing in a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Roberts won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Brockovich herself had a cameo role as a waitress named Julia.

Brockovich had a more extensive role in the 2012 documentary Last Call at the Oasis, which focused on not only water pollution but also the overall state of water scarcity as it relates to water policy in the United States.[40]

On April 8, 2021, Rebel, a television series which creator Krista Vernoff loosely based on Brockovich's life, premiered on ABC.[41]

Books and articles edit

Brockovich's first book, Take It from Me: Life's a Struggle But You Can Win (ISBN 978-0071383790), was published in 2001. A second book, Superman's Not Coming,[42] was released on August 25, 2020.

In 2021, Brockovich wrote about hormone-disrupting chemicals (such as PFAS) eroding human fertility at an alarming rate.[43]

On February 8, 2022, Brockovich wrote an article talking about the case of Steven Donziger, a lawyer who won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron before being jailed for contempt of court after refusing to turn his phone and computer over to Chevron's legal team.[44]

Personal life edit

Brockovich has three children: a son, Matthew, and a daughter, Katie, from her first marriage to Shawn Brown, and a daughter, Elizabeth ("Beth"), from her second marriage to Steven Brockovich.[45] Her third husband was actor and country-musician DJ, Eric L. Ellis.[45] As of 2016, Brockovich resides in Agoura Hills, California, in a house she purchased in 1996 with her US$2.5 million bonus after the Hinkley settlement.[45]

References edit

  1. ^ McDonough, Molly (September 26, 2008). "Erin Brockovich Signs On With NYC Law Firm". ABA Journal.
  2. ^ "Erin Brockovich Shines". Shine Lawyers. Archived from the original on 3 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Girardi & Keese Law Firm" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-15.
  4. ^ Maddaus, Gene (September 22, 2009). "Erin Brockovich goes after Shell Oil in Carson". Daily Breeze. Archived from the original on October 7, 2009.
  5. ^ "Obituaries / LJWorld.com". ljworld.com.
  6. ^ Fortini, Amanda (2020-08-11). "Erin Brockovich Wants to Know What You're Drinking". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2023-02-03.
  7. ^ "Erin Brockovich Reveals How Her Dyslexia — and Doubters — Shaped Her Citizen Activism Career". Peoplemag. Retrieved 2023-02-03.
  8. ^ Dorian, Marc; Gorin, Tim; Yamada, Haley; Yang, Allie (June 10, 2021). "Erin Brockovich: the real story of the town three decades later". ABC News. Retrieved 1 February 2023. "Everywhere I was going in this little community, somebody had asthma, a complaint of a chronic cough, recurring bronchitis, recurring rashes, unusual joint aches, nosebleeds," Brockovich told "20/20" in a new interview. "It didn't make sense, and so the more I ask questions ... the more I started to piece the puzzle together."
  9. ^ Friedman, Ann (2016). "Erin Brockovich: The fabulous American whistleblower has a few more surprises in the pipeline". thegentlewoman.co.uk. The film – "98 per cent true," she tells me – chronicles her 1993 fight against the power company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which was poisoning the water in the small town of Hinkley, California, with hexavalent chromium. The pollution was causing cancer, infertility and a barrage of other ailments in people unfortunate enough to live nearby. Erin, who since 1991 had worked as a legal clerk for the law firm Masry & Vititoe, helped the residents sue PG&E.
  10. ^ Devine, Tom (2011). The corporate whistleblower's survival guide : a handbook for committing the truth. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 9781605099866. From Erin Brockovich to Enron, whistleblowers who "challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust" have proven to be an unfortunate necessity in modern business culture.
  11. ^ "Erin Brockovich and Hexavalent Chromium". SkillMD. Retrieved 2019-05-26.
  12. ^ "PG&E Hinkley Chromium Cleanup". swrcb.ca.gov. California State Water Resources Control Board. September 10, 2008. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  13. ^ Campbell, Duncan (10 December 2001). "What Erin Brockovich did next". The Guardian. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Schwartz, Naoki (December 13, 2010). "Survey shows unremarkable cancer rate in CA town". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. Retrieved November 24, 2020 – via Boston.com.
  15. ^ Heath, David (June 3, 2013). "Erin Brockovich's Biggest Debunker, Debunked". Mother Jones. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  16. ^ Genecov, Max (29 January 2019). "The 'Erin Brockovich' town is still toxic (and nearly abandoned)". Grist. Retrieved 1 February 2023. There are hundreds of wells around the compressor station, where chromium-6 levels still peak at over one thousand parts per billion, 100 times the state's maximum contaminant level for the chemical compound.
  17. ^ Dorian, Marc; Gorin, Tim; Yamada, Haley; Yang, Allie (June 10, 2021). "Erin Brockovich: the real story of the town three decades later". ABC News. Retrieved 1 February 2023. Independent consultant Raudel Sanchez is in charge of monitoring the cleanup efforts on behalf of Hinkley residents. PG&E funds Sanchez and his group as part of the settlement. Cleaning up contaminated water is a long process, he said. "It ranges between maybe something like 30 to 40, 50 years. So groundwater cleanups, they take a really long time to do," Sanchez said. Although PG&E declined to be interviewed by ABC News for this story, it offered a statement that read, in part: "PG&E has made significant progress in cleaning up the highest concentrations of chromium 6 in groundwater. The remedy has removed more than 70% of the estimated release. We are committed to doing what's right for the Hinkley community, and we will be here until we finish the job."
  18. ^ Magill, Bobby (October 20, 2022). "'Erin Brockovich' Metal in Tap Water Likely Causes Cancer (1)". Bloomberg Law. Retrieved 1 February 2023. Chromium-6, known as the "Erin Brockovich" chemical, is "likely to be carcinogenic" if consumed in drinking water, an EPA draft review of the metal's toxicity concludes...The American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's trade group, said Thursday it is reviewing the EPA's draft but says it believes the existing standard for drinking water is safe.
  19. ^ Roberts, Laura (June 17, 2010). "BP Oil Disaster: Major compensation payouts from other global corporations". Telegraph.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  20. ^ "Activist Erin Brockovich Settles Home Mold Suit". Archived from the original on October 27, 2014. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  21. ^ "Beverly Hills Mystery". People. May 19, 2003. Retrieved May 30, 2009.
  22. ^ "More Brockovich Claims Tossed" (PDF). Balance. Civil Justice Association of California: 2. Third Quarter 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 1, 2011 – via CJAC.org.
  23. ^ "Justice Served as City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills Unified School District Receive Reimbursement in Oil Well Litigation". CJAC.org (Press release). Civil Justice Association of California. October 9, 2007. Archived from the original on July 12, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  24. ^ Umansky, Eric (2005). "Muckraker 90210: A Most Unlikely Reporter Nails Erin Brockovich". Columbia Journalism Review. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Archived from the original on February 4, 2005. Retrieved November 24, 2020 – via CJR.org.
  25. ^ "Lawsuit alleges fertilizer was contaminated around Cameron, Mo". kansascity.com. Archived from the original on April 28, 2009.
  26. ^ a b c "Brockovich: Midland, Texas Water Sullied". CBS News. June 10, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2009.
  27. ^ Almasy, Steve; Spellman, Jim (February 4, 2012). "N.Y. town still baffled by teens' mysterious tics". CNN. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  28. ^ "What Really Happened To The Girls In Le Roy?". WGRZ.com. February 21, 2013. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-25.
  29. ^ "School's end clears up New York students' mystery twitching". Reuters. June 23, 2012.
  30. ^ a b Erin Brockovich visits East Palestine, Ohio after train crash | LiveNOW from FOX, retrieved 2023-02-25
  31. ^ Erin Brockovich FURIOUS Over East Palestine Ohio Train Explosion, Government Response, retrieved 2023-02-25
  32. ^ Erin Brockovich: Ohio 'community is left to fend for themselves' on toxic train risk, retrieved 2023-02-25
  33. ^ Erin Brockovich: What East Palestine residents 'can't handle' is a lie, retrieved 2023-02-25
  34. ^ Watch live: Erin Brockovich holds East Palestine town hall after train derailment, retrieved 2023-02-25
  35. ^ Nicks, Michelle (2023-02-25). "Erin Brockovich holds town hall in East Palestine at the invitation of the residents". cleveland19.com. Retrieved 2023-02-25. Brockovich along with an Ohio law firm and Attorney Michael Watts presented approximately 160 slides… on the history of train derailments… over the last few decades, showing the increase in the number of trains that have jumped the tracks with toxic chemicals.
  36. ^ "Train wreck chemicals burned". Arkansas Online. 2023-02-07. Retrieved 2023-02-25.
  37. ^ Haidet, Ryan (February 24, 2023). "Environmental activist Erin Brockovich holds town hall in East Palestine 3 weeks after train derailment". wkyc.com. Retrieved 2023-02-25.
  38. ^ Activist Erin Brockovich speaks on train derailment in East Palestine | Full Interview, retrieved 2023-02-25
  39. ^ a b c "Awards". brockovich.com. Erin Brockovich. Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
  40. ^ Turan, Kenneth (May 4, 2012). "Movie review: 'Last Call at the Oasis' smartly sounds alarm on water". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  41. ^ Ausiello, Michael (January 25, 2021). "ABC Shakes Up Thursday Lineup: Million Little Things Out, Rebel In — Plus, Grey's Anatomy Return Delayed". TVLine. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  42. ^ "Superman's Not Coming". penguinrandomhouse.com. Penguin Random House. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  43. ^ Brockovich, Erin (18 March 2021). "Plummeting sperm counts, shrinking penises: toxic chemicals threaten humanity". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  44. ^ "This lawyer should be world-famous for his battle with Chevron – but he's in jail". The Guardian. February 8, 2022. Retrieved February 12, 2022.
  45. ^ a b c Friedman, Ann (Fall–Winter 2016). "Erin Brockovich". The Gentlewoman. No. 14. Archived from the original on March 20, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2021.

External links edit