Erin Brockovich revisited - fact check edition

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Seems that Ms. Brockovich was not as correct with the facts as she could have been. From the Sydney Morning Herald comes this story of a new look at the old data:
With friends like Erin...
This week the legendary anti-chemical campaigner Erin Brockovich was paraded before Sydney by a new political group seeking our votes. The Climate Change Coalition thinks Brockovich's views on the environment are worth our attention. But once you know the facts about Brockovich and the movie that was made about her, you might wonder.

As anyone who's seen the film starring Julia Roberts knows, Brockovich was a legal file clerk who helped persuade about 650 residents of Hinkley, California, to sue the power company Pacific Gas and Electric. A rust inhibitor named chromium 6 had leaked from one of PG&E's facilities into the town's water supply. Brockovich and her bosses claimed drinking this had caused a wide variety of illnesses in residents, from nosebleeds to cancer. In 1996 PG&E paid $US333 million. The lawyers pocketed 40 per cent of this and paid Brockovich some $US2 million for her sterling efforts.

Brockovich, an attractive single parent, became a heroine. Julia Roberts was paid $US20 million to don the high heels and push-up bra again and play her in the film. Roberts won an Oscar and the movie grossed more than $US125 million in its first six months.

So far, so familiar. But then an investigative journalist named Michael Fumento started to look at the facts behind the case. He found that cancer rates in Hinkley were no higher than the Californian averages. He found chromium 6 causes cancer if breathed in large quantities, but there is no evidence it causes cancer if swallowed. (Information on the websites of the US Environment Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and Australia's Department of Environment and Water Resources suggests he's right.) And he found that no known agent can cause more than a handful of the symptoms attributed by Brockovich and her colleagues to chromium 6.

In other words, the case was a crock.

So why did PG&E pay up? We don't know, but Fumento believes it was because it was being commercially damaged by the wave of bad publicity. During the case, Brockovich's company formed an alliance with two of California's largest legal firms, and between them they used the media brilliantly. The ABC television network was just one major media outlet that pushed the Brockovich line. PG&E, a retail company in a competitive market, was suffering (so Fumento's argument goes) and decided to pay for the problem to go away. The costs could, after all, be passed on to consumers.
Michael Fumento's story on this (published in the Wall Street Journal) can be found here: 'Erin Brockovich,' exposed. His home site is here: Michael Fumento He is not resting on his Brockovich laurels either, he is a prolific writer and a good one too -- very careful with his facts. Check it out...

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on March 10, 2007 7:50 PM.

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