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Erin Brockovich Story

Water Issues Find Way Into Movies & TV

Julia Roberts needs no help from the drinking water community to push her star quality even higher, but she’s getting it. In the weeks after its release, the movie “Erin Brockovich”, about a lawsuit over the pollution of a California town’s wells, was the top draw at the box office and earned critical accolades for the actor.
It’s also a boon for water suppliers. “Erin Brockovich tells the story of what happens when polluters have free reign over a community’s water supply,” said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. “If left unchecked, their irresponsibility can have lethal consequences for years.”
The film is based on a lawsuit filed by the town of Hinkley, California, against Pacific Gas and Electric. The town contended the chromium the power company dumped into a pond contaminated the town’s water wells, and residents attributed many of their serious illnesses, including various cancers, to chromium contamination. In 1996, PG&E settled the case for $333 million.
“Those who pollute our source water must face stiff penalties for their transgression,” Hoffbuhr said.
Water contamination is not only a topic for the movies. A March 2 broadcast of the television news show “48 Hours” featured a segment on “E. coli” bacteria contamination of an untreated private well at a New York fairground that led to the death of a three-year old girl. The report went on to show the prevalence of “E. coli” strains [although not usually the most virulent strain that sometimes leads to death] in nearly every setting, from a table at a food court to a public bus, a public playground, and a home washing machine.
AWWA issued a press release pointing out the effectiveness of disinfection, the diligence of community water suppliers, and the importance of source water protection. Disinfection has been named as one of the top four engineering feats and one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th century.

(Reprinted from the April 2000 edition of “AWWA MainStream”)