A Film Everyone Should See: Erin Brockovich

Tonight I watched a film which had previously passed beneath my radar, and made me feel very happy about the world in which we live.

Erin Brockovich is a film based on the true story of a real Erin, illuminating a tale of David vs Goliath concerning the legal case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company for ground water pollution over three decades in Hinckley, California.

Gas pipelines delivering Natural Gas from Texas to Northern California since its introduction in the Southwest United State require repressurisation stations approximately every 300 miles. Increasing the pressure in a fluid increases the temperature of the fluid, requiring the use of cooling towers, in which water is sprayed onto pipes so that evaporation releases the heat into the air.

Since metal pipes rust in the presence of water and rust faster when the water it warm, Hexavalent Chromium was used to inhibit scale and rust. As the water re-condenses within cooling tower it falls into the tower pan which flows into outdoor ponds in which the chemicals are expected to settle and the remaining heat is dissipated. In the case of the Hinckley plant, and the following case of the Kettleman Hills plant which operates on the same pipeline, the ponds were not correctly lined, allowing Chromium(VI) to leach into the groundwater which would later be processed and supplied as tapwater. PG&E knew about this fault and attempted to cover up their failure by informing the residents that Chromium was being leached, but that the Chromium was beneficial to their health. In fact, it is the Chromium(III) form which has beneficial effects whereas excessive doses of Chromium(VI) cause a variety of illnesses including infertility and cancer. A University expert in the film states that the "safe" level of Chromium(VI) is 0.5 ppm whilst the measured level at Hinckley was 5.8 ppm. The current US EPA "safe" level is 0.1ppm.

The work of Erin Brockovich with the legal firm Masry and Vititoe resulted in a record $333m settlement of the Hinckley case in 1996. The Kettleman Hills case was settled in 2006 for $335m.

This film demonstrates the power of research and the common man. Despite lacking an education in Law, Brockovich succeeded in building the case and persuading the plaintiffs that their crusade would not be a waste of time. She selflessly juggled the care of her children with the burden of her employment, eventually succeeding in both the case and in establishing herself as a valuable employee. Erin now works to expose corporate deceit and campaigns on environmental issues, often giving public lectures.

Julia Roberts won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Brockovich in at the 2000 ceremony.The real Erin Brockovich featured in the role of a waitress named "Julia R." and the film was also nominated in four other categories.

This is a feelgood film which appeals to a wide range of audiences leaves the viewer smiling.

Erin Brockovich at IMDB
The film Erin Brockovich at Wikipedia
The real Erin Brockovich at Wikipedia
About Hexavalent Chromium

Erin Brockovich's own website