Erin Brockovich Case Study Pg&E

It’s been 12 years since Julia Roberts starred in the Oscar-winning tour de force “Erin Brockovich”. The film turned an unknown legal researcher into a 20th century icon by showcasing how her dogged persistence was the impelling force behind the largest medical settlement lawsuit in history. Since then, Erin hasn’t been resting on her laurels… she continues to fight hard and win big!

This gutsy broad doesn’t apologize for who she is. She has always loved going head to head with the big boys and was never intimated by their bravado. She learned how to come out on top from her tight-knit mid-western family in Lawrence, Kansas. Erin was the youngest child of an industrial engineer father and journalist mother. Her parents always believed that she could do anything she set her mind to if she learned to focus her amazing energy.

After a few years roaming around at various colleges, Erin decided that she wanted to be a California girl. She first landed a job as a management trainee for K-Mart but when that didn’t make her swagger, she decided to study electrical engineering. But that wasn’t enough for the Kansas beauty… on a fluke, she entered the Miss Pacific Coast beauty pageant… and, not surprising, won the title.

When she realized that beauty pageants weren’t her thing, Erin, her husband and two children settled in Reno, Nevada. After divorcing, the single mother became a secretary at a brokerage firm where she met and married her second husband. But that marriage was short lived and the now mother of three was solo again.

Up until this point, Erin was the average divorced single mother trying to make a living… until she crossed paths with lawyer, Ed Masry, and changed the course of both their lives.

After being seriously injured in a traffic accident in Reno, Erin moved back to California’s San Fernando Valley, and hired Masry & Vititoe to represent her. They won a small settlement but she still needed work so she got a job at their law firm as a file clerk, it was while organizing papers on a pro bono real estate case that Erin first found medical records that would explode into the largest direct action lawsuit in US history.

Erin’s exhaustive investigation uncovered that Pacific Gas & Electric had been poisoning the small town of Hinkley’s Water for over 30 years. It was because of Erin’s unwavering tenacity that PG & E had been exposed for leaking toxic Chromium 6 into the ground water. This poison affected the health of the population of Hinkley. In 1996, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind, spear-headed by Erin and Ed Masry, the utility giant was forced to pay out the largest toxic tort injury settlement in US history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.

The story and eventual film helped make the “Erin Brockovich” a household name. Over time, Erin realized that she could use her notoriety to spread positive messages of personal empowerment and to encourage others to stand up and make a difference.

Then, for three seasons, Erin hosted the Lifetime series, “Final Justice With Erin Brockovich”. The show celebrated everyday women who triumphed when faced with overwhelming adversity.Erin Brockovich has conquered all forms of media… Her first TV project was ABC’s 2001 special “Challenge America With Erin Brockovich” where she helped motivate and organize the rebuilding of a dilapidated park in downtown Manhattan. This show is best described as “Extreme Make-Over Home Edition” on steroids.

Erin then dominated the world of publishing with her New York Times Business best-seller, “Take It From Me. Life’s A Struggle, But You Can Win”.

Because of her fighting spirit, Erin has become the champion of countless women and men. She is this generations, “Dear Abby” and in fact receives thousands of “Dear Erin” letters and emails each year from people who are begging for help and support in their own personal struggles. Erin proudly answers every one of them.

As President of Brockovich Research & Consulting, she is currently involved in numerous environmental projects worldwide.

Erin is one of the most requested speakers on the international lecture circuit and travels the world for personal appearances.

Erin Brockovich is a true American hero who’s icon status and “stick-to-it-iveness” only fuels her determination to expose injustice and lend her voice to those who do not have one.

She has requests for her help in ground water contamination complaints in every state of the US, Australia and other international hot spots. She is currently working on cases in California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri.

Erin lives in Southern California with her husband, three children and 5 Pomeranians and admits to one guilty pleasure… shopping!

When KMBC broke the story about a cluster of brain tumors in Cameron, it drew national attention. One of those taking notice was well-known environmental activist Erin Brockovich.



The Plaintiffs:  The Citizens of Hinkley, California


Seventy seven residents of  Hinkley, California sued Pacific Gas and Electic Company. The plantiffs believed that PG&E's negligance in handling chromium VI lead to the diseases the citzens suffered from.  


History - How Hinkley Became Aware of Chromium VI Poisoning:


The residents of Hinkley became aware of  the dangers of chromium VI when Erin Brockovich exposed a connection between real estate documents and medical records. The real estate documents showed PG&E's purchace of multiple pieces of Hinkley property. In addition there was evidence that 75% of the houses and buildings PG&E bought were destroyed due to the company’s response to vandalism. (Erin Brockovich ... [updated 1999]). These records caught Brockovich’s attention due to the fact that they were filed with medical records indicating respiratory problems experienced by Hinkley residents. Brockovich believed that PG&E was covering up some sort of contamination by buying and destroying the properties. Upon further investigation, she discovered additional documents that exposed that on December 7, 1987 officials from PG&E advised the State of California they had detected levels of hexavalent chromium (chrome VI) in a groundwater monitoring well north of the compressor station's waste water ponds. The levels were ten times greater than the maximum amount allowed by law. 


Chromium VI and Its Link to Medical Problems:


Chromium VI has been considered a cancer causing chemical since the 1920s. (Lasalandran and McCluskey 2004). Chromium VI is especially dangerous to the lungs and is linked to many respiratory problems.  The residents of Hinkley "experienced a disturbing array of health problems: liver, heart, respiratory, and reproductive failure, cancer of the brain, kidney, breast, uterus, and gastrointesitnal system, Hodgkin disease, frequent miscarriages, and more (Pellerin 2000). The animals in the area were sick and dying as well. Even the trees and plant life in Hinkley were suffering due to the contaminated water (Lansalandran and McCluskey 2004). Researchers at Brown University discovered that when chromium VI comes into contact with naturally occurring vitamin C in human cells it causes massive amounts of DNA damage (Reynolds 2007). A low dose of chromium VI in combination with vitamin C produces up to fifteen times as many chromosomal breaks and up to ten times as many mutations as cells that lack vitamin C (Reynolds 2007). These forms of genetic damage lead to cancer. The people of Hinkley ingested massive amounts of chromium VI over decades and with the combination of naturally occurring vitamin C it caused various forms cancer.


Evidence Plantiff's Presented Aganist PG&E:


PG&E's Cover Up


PG&E began its cover up through the hiding of documents including the ones that Erin Brokovich discovered. They claim that they warned people about the contamination of the water and acknowledge that they knew that chromium VI had leaked in. Their way of informing people about the problem was through fliers that left out key information and mislead the people of Hinkley about the effects of chromium VI. These fliers did not include which type of chromium the people were exposed to and the dangers of the certain type they did use.They stated that, “Chromium occurs in two forms. The form that is present in groundwater can cause health effects in high doses. The cleanup program, however, will result in chromium levels that meet the very conservative drinking water standards set by the EPA". In addition, the form of chromium that will be left on soils after irrigation is nontoxic. In fact, chromium in this form is a naturally occurring metal that is an essential ingredient in the human diet, one that is often included in multiple vitamin/mineral supplements” (Erin Brockovich ... [updated 1999]). In this statement PG&E used wording that portrayed there was no health risk to the people. They persuaded people to believe that this toxin was a good thing and they shouldn’t be worried in the slightest about potential risks. An actual plaintiff at the trial stated that, "the flyer might have invited a person to "sprinkle some on your morning cereal."  This is ironic because the opposite is true, sprinkling it on your cereal would probably cause extreme health effects including the ultimate danger of death (Erin Brockovich ... [updated 1999]). Through the distribution of these fliers PG&E tried to hide the truth about chromium poisoning in an effort to cover up their responsibility for the damages done to the residents of Hinkley’s health.


PG&E's Failure to Prevent Further Exposure


PG&Es failure to properly label their flyer with the appropriate dangerous type of chromium was not the only information that they failed to communicate to the local community. The flyer implied that the detection of contamination at the compressor station was a new development. The contamination was not newly discovered because PG&E first knew about it at least by1965. They had been contaminating the water during the 60s, 70s, and 80s and did nothing to inform or prevent further exposure (Lasalandra and McCluskey 2004). Until 1972, “PG&E had knowingly released 370 million gallons of Cr(VI)-contaminated wastewater into the unlined ponds” (Pellerin 2000). Due to the inability of PG&E to resist using chromium VI it was allowed to leak into into Hinkley’s groundwater (Pellerin 2000). Their negligence caused the community to experience a long term massive exposure to a dangerous toxin when they could have prevented the level of damage.  Erin Brockovich ... [updated 1999])


PG&E's Corruption of Data


PG&E further attempted to corrupt the evidence against them by distorting a previous medical study on chromium IV’s carcinogenic effects in order to divert their responsibility for what happened to the victims. In their attempt to manipulate evidence PG&E persuaded a respected Chinese scientist to participate in an update of his 1987 study that found a link between chromium-contaminated water in rural China and an increase in villagers’ cancer rates (Smith 2006). In the new study paid for by PG&E environmental consultants wrote the article rather than the scientist that performed the study. The study found that there was no link between increased rates of cancer and chromium IV poisoning (Smith 2006). The results were questionable not only because it was paid for and the scientist who completed the research did not write it but also because incorrect epidemiological terms were used and the researcher’s name was misspelled multiple times (Smith 2006).



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