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Jewish World Review April 17, 2000 /12 Nissan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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The truth about
Erin Brockovich -- HERE'S A GOOD WAY to commemorate Earth Day 2000: Skip "Erin Brockovich" and buy your family a good science textbook instead.

Audiences and critics are falling hard for Julia Roberts' low-cut, high-heeled portrayal of the real-life Brockovich. She's a foul-mouthed file clerk who took on an evil utility company that allegedly poisoned residents in the desert town of Hinkley, California. Brockovich scored $2 million in legal bonuses. Roberts made $20 million playing "Pretty Woman" meets "A Civil Action." Over the past four weeks, the box-office smash grossed nearly $90 million.

It's a titillating story about toxic torts, no question. But the movie and the real-life drama behind it contain about as much scientific credibility as Leo DeCaprio's global warming crib notes.

Like many environmentalist crusaders before her, Brockovich catalogued a cornucopia of illnesses in a small town and connected them to a single pollutant. Minute amounts of the heavy metal chromium-six, she claimed, had caused everything from uterine and breast cancer to birth defects, nosebleeds, rashes, immune disorders, and miscarriages. Under pressure from the bull-headed Brockovich and some out-of-town legal heavyweights who collaborated with Brockovich's law firm, the accused polluter – Pacific Gas & Electric – shelled out over $300 million to settle the case.

Did the company's cave-in mean they were guilty as charged? Was science really on the plaintiffs' side? Investigative journalist and science author Michael Fumento checked it out. As he reported in the Wall Street Journal last week, "no one agent could possibly have caused more than a handful of the symptoms described and chromium-6 in the water almost certainly couldn't have caused any of them."

Fumento found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's own risk information concluded that "No data were located in the available literature that suggested that [chromium-6] is carcinogenic by the oral route of exposure." The substance has been shown to cause cancer only through inhalation of large doses over many years. High-dose tests in rodents and dogs failed to demonstrate ill effects.

Moreover, Fumento discovered, recent research on chromium-6 exposure at the Hinkley plant showed that "not only was there no excess of cancer when compared to the general California population, but that the overall PG&E worker death rate was significantly much lower than those of other Californians. Are we to believe that something causing no harm at the plant itself is nonetheless wreaking havoc on those living nearby?"

In response, the real Brockovich and her high-powered attorney friends point to thousands of pages of poignant testimonials from Hinkley townspeople. "These people are rightfully outraged. And the rest of us should be, too," Brockovich wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal."
Roberts as "Brockovich"
(The complete exchange, including links to Fumento's scientific sources– Brockovich and company provided no such citations in their rebuttal -- can be found at

Individual anecdotes always make good witness statements and emotional dramas. They are not, however, scientific proof. Miscarriages are common. Everyone gets rashes and nosebleeds. And just look at the hard data on birth defects: On an average day in the United States, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 10,860 babies are born. Of those, 412 are born with birth defects and 20 die as the result of a birth defect. Between 80,000 to 120,000 babies out of roughly 4 million born annually have at least one major malformation. The causes of about 60 percent of all birth defects are unknown.

The question is whether the "victims" identified by Brockovich suffered from these various ailments at higher rates than the normal population, and whether the accused pollutant could have possibly been responsible for the entire range of maladies Brockovich recorded. In the only other skeptical piece about "Erin Brockovich" to appear in a major mainstream newspaper, New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata noted this week that "Federal agencies whose scientists were not involved in the litigation said evidence was lacking that chromium (VI) in groundwater caused a myriad of health problems."

In a more scientifically literate nation, movies like "Erin Brockovich" would be properly viewed as farce and the junk lawsuits they glorify would be properly exposed as fraud. Alas, the cold hard facts are no match for a warm smile, dazzling cleavage, and a blinding Hollywood spotlight.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


04/13/00: In defense of an armed citizenry
04/10/00: Playing hardball with taxpayers
04/06/00: Read W.'s lips: More new spending
04/04/00: The liberal media-in-training
03/31/00: Sticking it to the children
03/28/00: Declaring war on HOV lanes
03/22/00: Clinton and the Echo Boomers
03/17/00: Is Bush a Liddy Dole Republican?
03/13/00: Katie and the politics of disease
03/10/00: Maria H, Granny D, and the media Z's
03/07/00: Bubba Van Winkle wakes up
03/03/00: Double standard for day traders?
02/28/00: Sluts and nuts --- and our daughters
02/24/00: Zoning out religious freedom
02/15/00: The Baby Brain Boondoggle
02/10/00: Buddhist temple untouchables
02/08/00: CDC: Caught Devouring Cash
02/04/00: Hillary's poisoned poster child
02/01/00: Corporate welfare on ice
01/28/00: The silly sound of silence
01/26/00: The Old Media meltdown
01/20/00: The pied pipers of KidCare
01/18/00: Our imperious judiciary
01/14/00: Tune out Columbine chorus
01/12/00: Dying to be an American
01/10/00: Time for smokers' revolt?
12/30/99: Reading, writing, PlayStation?
12/27/99: Fight money-grubbing mallrats
12/23/99: Christmas for Cornilous Pixley
12/20/99: Who will help the Hmong?
12/16/99: Shame on corn-fed politicians
12/13/99: EPA vs. the American Dream
12/09/99: Look behind the Pokemon curtain
12/06/99: Amateur hour in Seattle
11/30/99: Stop the Ritalin racketeers
11/23/99: Welfare for a sports fatcat
11/19/99: Jeb Bush's political ploy of the week
11/16/99: Ben & Jerry serve up junk science
11/12/99: A monumental waste of our veterans' resources
11/10/99: Tax-and-spend schizophrenia
11/05/99: Spooky Guy Haunts the Capital
11/02/99: Mourning the loss of the last Liberty Tree
10/27/99: AOL goes AWOL on parents
10/22/99: The persecution of Harry Potter
10/20/99: Don't doctor the law
10/14/99: The trouble with kids today
10/12/99: Pro-animal, pro-abortion, anti-speech?
10/07/99: Beltway press corps needs more skunks
09/30/99: ESPN overlooks athlete of faith, grace, and guts
09/27/99: Personal freedom going up in smoke
09/15/99: Farewell, "Miss" America
09/10/99: Will George W. work for a color-blind America?
09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
08/04/99: Sweepstakes vs. state lottery: double standards on gambling
07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line" (or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
07/21/99: Reading, 'Riting, and Raunchiness?
07/14/99: Journalists' group-think is not unity
06/30/99: July Fourth programming for the Springer generation
06/25/99: Speechless in Seattle
06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

© 2000, Creators Syndicate