Julia Roberts played the curvy, pugnacious blonde, Erin Brockovich, in the movie of the same name. Erin, a small town law clerk at the time, took took Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to court and won a $333 million out-of-court settlement for 600 Hinkley, California residents. The award is believed to be the largest in American history.
The problem was, PG&E had contaminated the Hinkley water supply and an inordinate number of the less than 2,000 residents were plagued with cancer – brain, lung growths, miscarriages, stroke and even strange rashes. Symptoms ranged from nose bleeds to asthma to breast cysts. At least everyone thought that was the problem:
Today, however, more than a decade on from one of the most celebrated ‘David and Goliath’ legal battles of recent times, a less flattering assessment is emerging.
Fresh scientific evidence has come to light that casts doubt on Brockovich’s claims that PG&E was responsible for the continuing legacy of ill-health in Hinkley.
That evidence is contained in a new survey by the California Cancer Registry [Loma Linda University, California] and its key, controversial finding that the number of people diagnosed with cancer in the Hinkley area between 1996 and 2008 was not only not excessive, but was lower than would normally be expected for a town of its size — 196 cancer cases over the 12-year period of the study, when the statistical expectation for the region was 224.
From the settlement, some residents were paid because they lived near the plant, or as assurance that they would not file a future lawsuit against PG&E.
Professor John Morgan is a professor of epidemiology at Loma Linda University, California. He has been studying cancer in Hinkley for “more than 20 years.” He says he does not blame the people of Hinkley for believing PG&E is responsible for the illness there, but his research puts the theory of water contamination in serious doubt.
‘Apart from anything else, they have been told to believe the opposite in a Hollywood movie. But the fact of the matter is that there has never been evidence of a “cancer excess” in Hinkley.’
Brockovich reportedly received $2.5 million for her work on the case. It’s not clear where the money came from, but perhaps from the settlement. Apparently, she has pursued similar cases:
Erin Brockovich lives in a six-bedroom, six-bathroom home in an exclusive enclave of the Agoura Hills, midway between Malibu and Los Angeles
Brockovich owns her own environmental consultant business. The link above will take you to the UK Daily Mail where there is much more information on the Hinkley residents involved in the lawsuit.