Erin Brockovich Redux Wasn t Once Enough?

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An Associated Press article that ran yesterday should strike fear into the hearts of logicians, scientists and those devoted to improving public health: Erin Brockovich is back in her old stomping grounds of Hinkley, California, once again making claims about the dangers of hexavalent chromium.

As we have mentioned in Dispatch previously, Brockovich gained fame 15 years ago by organizing residents of that town in a class-action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for its actions permitting hexavalent chromium to seep into Hinkley’s water supply. The lawsuit, and the subsequent movie about it, brought Brockovich added fortune as PG&E settled with the town’s residents for $333 million — a big chunk of which she and her firm received in contingency fees. Brockovich claimed that the hexavalent chromium (also known as chromium VI) was causing cancer in town residents. But epidemiological surveys showed that Hinkley, in fact, had a lower rate of cancer than expected. Further, the amount of hexavalent chromium in the town’s drinking water was measured at trace levels.

So why has Brockovich returned to Hinkley, and why is she busying herself making claims that a wider range within the Hinkley area is now “contaminated” by hexavalent chromium? Might it be that Brockovich’s recent failure to win a lawsuit against the city of Beverly Hills — documented in prize-winning journalist Norma Zager’s new book Erin Brockovich and the Beverly Hills Greenscam — has left her hungry for more publicity and where better to find it than in Hinkley?

We at ACSH claim no special knowledge of Brockovich’s motives. Yet we can’t help but wonder why it took an AP reporter until the fifteenth paragraph of her sympathetic take on Brockovich’s latest antics to note that “The reported chromium levels [in Hinkley] are low enough not to violate drinking water standards...”

With an exasperated shake of his head, ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross simply notes: “There’s no documentation to show that ingesting hexavalent chromium through drinking water causes cancer in humans at any level of exposure. The only data on cancer and chromium VI involved inhalation among highly exposed arc welders.”