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TakePart Talks to Erin Brockovich About Water

By Jenny Inglee/TakePart.com September 12, 2011 The Real Erin Brockovich’s Tough Labor of Love. ‘Life is great,’ says the high-heeled advocate, ‘so I do whatever I can.’ The name Erin Brockovich stirs up visions of a fierce and feisty Julia Roberts taking down a massive power company that is polluting a town’s water supply. The real Erin Brockovich is just as fierce and feisty. To this day, she’s fighting to keep our drinking water safe. Erin is one of the advocates featured in Jessica Yu’s Last Call at the Oasis, a thought-provoking documentary about the global water crisis that premiered September 9 at the Toronto International Film Festival. TakePart had a chance to talk with Erin about why she has stayed on the front lines of this fight for the past 19 years. TakePart: How many emails do you get per month from people wanting your help? Erin: About 60,000 per month from 124 countries and territories. TakePart: What cases are you currently working on? Erin: There are so many. I’m working on chromium 6 cases in Australia, the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Greece, Italy, France and South Africa. That’s just on one chemical. In the U.S., we’re working on six to seven cases of groundwater contaminations. We have hexavalent chromium issues from California to Missouri to Midland, Texas, and lead contamination down in Oklahoma and Missouri. There are young children playing in lead piles. This stuff is still going on in 2011—in the United States of America—and it’s mind boggling. “I hope the film is seen by government agencies and CEOs and they look at where they are failing because they are failing. Call a spade a spade—you’re failing.” TakePart: What keeps you motivated? What keeps you fighting year after year? Erin: I don’t give it that much thought, but what I see is wrong and what I see saddens me. Life is great, and for all we know, this might be the only shot we have; so I do whatever I can to make it a better place for someone else and myself included. Extending a hand of compassion is what I believe I’m here to do. TakePart: Does it ever feel like a burden? Erin: No, but I do get overwhelmed. I do get frustrated. And then along comes Participant Media, and we make a water film and make a little progress, which eases the overwhelmingness for a while. It’s very helpful to have others pay attention to something that affects us all. I hope the film is seen by government agencies and CEOs and they look at where they are failing because they are failing. Call a spade a spade—you’re failing. Corporations need to change their business model. “Some bottled waters are contaminated. You can’t be certain you’re getting a safe bet just because it has a pretty bottle.” TakePart: What would you say to the people who are scared to drink their tap water, but don’t know if it’s in their best interest to buy bottled water? Erin: First of all, I think most municipal waters are safe to drink. I really do. We need to be careful about over chlorination…. But I think generally the municipal systems are pretty good. When a municipality has a problem, you don’t just get one person reporting, you have thousands of them reporting, and the water companies tend to move very quickly. We have to be careful with bottled water. Some bottled waters are contaminated, and you can’t be certain you’re getting a safe bet just because it has a pretty bottle. People on well water definitely need to be concerned. That’s the system that’s fallen off the grid. There’s no regulation for private well water, and 40 to 50 million Americans are on well water…. In Duncan, Oklahoma, Halliburton has been poisoning people’s well waters since 1991, but nobody went out and tested it. I don’t know what bug got up Halliburton’s butt, but they decided to go out there and test the wells. People had 39,000 parts per billion of perchlorate in their water. TakePart: What will those high levels cause? Erin: Drinking it at those levels for all those years will cause major health problems, cancer and early death. I was inundated with emails. When I went out there, they were all experiencing the same thing. They are all on well water and would say, “My daughter died of thyroid cancer, my son died of thyroid cancer….” That is another example. It’s happening over and over and over again. Doe Run in Leadwood, Missouri, has a big lead mine. They throw all their lead tailings out. The children think the [debris piles] are mountains, and they play in them. Their hands are stained gray with lead, and their lead levels are off the charts. TakePart: How do companies get away with this? Erin: We think there is all this regulation, but even though there is some, there is no enforcement, and all these agencies are absent. They are not coming; so people have to start turning to themselves and to each other. Instead of expecting agencies to police us, we’re going to have to police ourselves. http://www.takepart.com/article/2011/09/12/erin-brockovich-tough-labor-love