While working at a law firm which had once represented her (in a personal injury case), Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts in the film), found something highly unusual: medical records in a real estate file. She decided to follow-up.
As she dug deeper into the once-languishing file, she uncovered what tied real estate transactions to medical information. Pacific Gas & Electric, the world’s largest public utility, was buying up homes thought to be negatively impacted by pollution - then destroying them. The contamination, apparently, had been caused by PG&E’s waste-disposal practices.
At issue was a carcinogenic chemical called hexavalent chromium, known more simply as “chrome 6.” The company had detected the chemical in a monitoring well north of its compressor station in Hinkley, California.
Groundwater in the area flowed north - toward the homes, and businesses, of PG&E’s neighbors (who used groundwater for drinking purposes). And those neighbors, at least some of them, were getting sick.
Erin Brockovich interviewed many people, found a way to get copies of incriminating records and discussed the whole situation with her law-firm boss, Ed Masry (Albert Finney). They decided to file a class-action lawsuit. It ultimately led to a huge settlement - $333 million - for the area residents.
In this story behind the movie, meet the real Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry. Take a virtual trip to Hinkley to see the compressor station (and the area where it is located). Learn about groundwater, the hydrogeologic cycle, plumes of contamination - and how they all work together when cancer-causing chemicals are in their midst. Visit Barstow, California (where Ed and Erin filed the case), examine parts of the court’s file and meet the actual judges who helped the parties resolve their differences.
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