Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich is investigating the chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents without tap water for over a week.
Brockovich, who came to fame by spearheading a massive environmental lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, visited Charleston several days after the spill, assuring residents that her team of legal investigators will continue to work on the case after she returns to her home in California.
At a community meeting in Charleston, Brockovich noted that she has never seen a groundwater-contamination incident affect so many people. She also expressed frustration that it's been over 20 years since federal regulators inspected the Freedom Industries factory responsible for the spill.
“This is a problem that plagues us throughout the United States,” Brockovich said. “There are tank farms like this across the U.S. that are not properly inspected that result in disasters such as this – not to this scale, but every single day we deal with a situation like this, to a smaller magnitude.”
Julia Roberts won an Oscar for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich in a 2000 film that chronicled Brockovich’s investigation into groundwater contamination in the town of Hinkley, Calif. The movie tells the story of how Brockovich, then a single mom and legal clerk, spearheaded a lawsuit that forced Pacific Gas & Electric to pay $333 million in damages to Hinkley residents.
Since then, Brockovich has launched Brockovich Research and Consulting, through which she is involved in numerous environmental projects around the world, according to her website.
Brockovich works with “leading law firms” to investigate environmental incidents, her website says. Her current cases include a groundwater-contamination investigation in southeast Minneapolis, where authorities recently told some residents that vapor from a harmful industrial solvent could be leaking into their homes.
"It's 2014. To move forward, businesses have to stop the pratices that they have had throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s that we see no longer work," Brockovich said at the community meeting in Charleston. "It cannot be money first and safety second. It has to be safety first and money second. We have to change our business practices."