NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Science Contradicts Hollywood's "Erin Brockovich"

March 30, 2000

In 1996, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company settled for $333 million a lawsuit that claimed residents of Hinkley, Calif., suffered from a variety of conditions due to chromium 6, a rust inhibitor, leaking from one of PG&E's nearby plants into the town's water supply.

In 1993, legal assistant Erin Brockovich, whose story was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts, lined up some 650 Hinkley residents as potential plaintiffs. The Hinkley residents had dozens of symptoms ranging from nosebleeds to breast cancer, miscarriages to deteriorating spines.

But chemical experts have concluded that chromium 6 could not possibly have caused all of the symptoms, contends Michael Fumento of the Hudson Institute, particularly when imbibed through the water supply:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency considers the chemical a human carcinogen which has only been linked to lung and septum cancer, and only when inhaled -- a problem associated with massive exposure over many years, during production of the chemical.
  • "No data were located in the available literature that suggested that it is carcinogenic by the oral route of exposure," the EPA has stated -- so it could not cause damage to humans through drinking water.
  • After evaluating more than 52,000 workers at three PG&E plants over a quarter century -- including the plant at Hinkley -- researchers found cancer rates were no higher than in the general California population and death rates significantly lower than expected.
  • While chromium 6 concentrations in Hinkley's water never exceeded 0.058 parts per million, tests on rodents which received 25 ppm and dogs at 11.2 ppm turned up no ill effects.

The law firm of the heroine of the movie collected $133.6 million in fees from the 1996 settlement. The same firm is now representing some 1,500 other clients planning to sue PG&E.

Source: Michael Fumento (Hudson Institute), "'Erin Brockovich,' Exposed," Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2000.


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