Erin Brockovich

Over the past week, there has been an appropriate amount of public scrutiny over my terrible lapse in judgment. This experience has been humbling and I have taken responsibility for my actions. However, what I refuse to do is allow this situation to in anyway discredit and trivialize the thousands of men, woman and children I have represented and whose circumstances were not of their own making.

On Wednesday morning, The Daily Beast published a story punctuated by the now-infamous “mug shot,” in which it calls into question the harmful effects of dumping tons of toxic chemicals into the environment. We can debate the journalistic value of such images and their positioning atop a news articles challenging claims of cancer-causing elements in the environment. However, beyond debate are the facts about Hinkley and the other communities mentioned in The Daily Beast article

Because of the film “Erin Brockovich,” Hinkley has always been at the center of these conversations. Let’s start with what we know. PG&E settled one of the largest lawsuits in American history and got to work cleaning up the damage from dumping 26 tons of chromium 6 into unlined retaining pools that poisoned the water. PG&E has spent over $700 million in efforts to clean up the mess. Depicted in a recent PBS “Newshour” segment, PG&E told Hinkley residents gathered at a town hall meeting that the cleanup won’t be done for another 40 years. That is not a typo; it will take another FORTY years.

In The Daily Beast article, the writer does point out that the main detractor of the Hinkley claims, Dr. John Morgan, is the subject of a recent study and exposé in Mother Jones that proves his methods are fatally flawed and that his findings are unreliable. Morgan found a cancer cluster, but because there was only a 95% certainty of its existence, not 99%, he dismissed it. The report points out that Morgan’s original findings did show a 25% higher cancer rate in Hinkley but that the updated findings in 2011 did not show significantly higher rates. The only problem here is that the 2011 update was conducted using post-1996 data, after the heavily effected portions of Hinkley were razed and its inhabitants had moved. This is specifically why my “fancy” website was designed to show the movements of those affected, so that their illnesses are included in any calculations and not ignored, as Dr. Morgan has done. Once noting the “debunking of the debunker,” it’s fascinating that the writer would use the Hinkley example at all.

The case at Beverly Hills High was a very difficult situation. It is an instance where we did lose the legal battle. However, not all lost wars are unjust. There are a myriad of reasons why some litigations fail and this case is no different. What most people don’t know about Beverly Hills is that it rests atop a maze of horizontal oil drilling. What even fewer people know is that one of the drilling platforms was located on the grounds of the local high school. Among the chemicals used on these platforms is a known carcinogen, benzene. As with most of the cases I get involved in, I was contacted by community members concerned about the high cancer rates at the school. We have an obligation to our children and our communities to investigate when hundreds of kids become ill. We lost the case but that doesn’t mean that we should have oil platforms that pump carcinogens on school grounds. It also doesn’t mean that these kids didn’t get cancer and that parents don’t deserve to know why.

The situation at Avila Beach is a very proud moment, not for me but for the residents of Avila Beach. This case is the essence of what I hope can happen in every one of these communities. The people of Avila Beach won a lawsuit because a proven leaky oil pipeline contaminated that beach. After a settlement in the tens of millions and a cleanup effort, the beach is clean, safe and quite beautiful. Clearly contamination existed and although it took a lawsuit, the corporation has been held accountable. This is what we should be working towards.

What we shouldn’t be doing is denying the harmful effects of children drinking contaminated water, attending schools in the shadow of oil wells or denying that beaches were contaminated, even after millions have been spent to clean it up. We should instead be using our resources to foster communication and cooperation between industry and communities. We require jobs, products and services, but we have to work together to ensure that these societal needs don’t endanger our basic needs for clean air, land and water.

I am taking responsibility for my actions. We should expect no less from those we entrust with our environment.