|Born:||June 22, 1960|
Lawrence, Kansas, United States
Erin Brockovich-Ellis (born June 22, 1960) is an American legal clerk and environmental activist who, despite the lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Since the release of the film that shares her story and name, she has hosted Challenge America with Erin Brockovich on ABC and Final Justice on Lifetime. She is the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting, a consulting firm. She is currently working as a consultant for the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which has a focus on personal injury claims for asbestos exposure.
She was born Erin L. E. Pattee in Lawrence, Kansas to Frank Pattee, an industrial engineer and Betty Jo O'Neal-Pattee, a journalist. She attended Lawrence High School then Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. She worked as a management trainee for Kmart in 1981 but quit after a few months and entered some potentially lucrative beauty pageants. After winning Miss Pacific Coast in 1981, she soon gave up pageant life because she found it shallow. She has lived in California since 1982.
Brockovich was involved in a car accident in Reno and was seriously injured. Her case was settled out of court for $50,000.
Brockovich received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa Degree and was Commencement Speaker at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on May 5, 2007.
Pacific Gas litigation
The case alleged contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium(VI), in the southern California town of Hinkley. At the center of the case was a facility called the Hinkley Compressor Station, part of a natural gas pipeline connecting to the San Francisco Bay Area constructed in 1952. Between 1952 and 1966, PG&E used hexavalent chromium to fight corrosion in the cooling tower. The wastewater dissolved the hexavalent chromium from the cooling towers and was discharged to unlined ponds at the site. Some of the wastewater percolated into the groundwater, affecting an area near the plant approximately two miles long and nearly a mile wide. The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct action lawsuit in U.S. history.
Working under Thousand Oaks, California-based lawyer Edward L. Masry, Brockovich went on to participate in other anti-pollution lawsuits. One accuses Whitman Corporation of chromium contamination in Willits, California. Another lawsuit, which lists 1,200 plaintiffs, alleges contamination near PG&E's Kettleman Hills Compressor Station in Kings County, California, along the same pipeline as the Hinkley site. The Kettleman suit settled for $335 million in 2006. After experiencing problems with mold contamination in her own home in the Conejo Valley, Brockovich became a prominent activist and educator in this area as well. Today, Brockovich is a noted speaker in demand for U.S. and international speaking engagements.
Brockovich and Masry filed suit against the Beverly Hills Unified School District in 2003, in which the district was accused of harming the health and safety of its students by allowing a contractor to operate an oil well on campus. Brockovich and Masry alleged that 300 cancer cases were linked to the oil well. Subsequent testing and epidemiological investigation failed to corroborate any link, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Wendell Mortimer granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs. In May 2007, the School District announced that it was to be paid $450,000 as reimbursement for legal expenses.
Brockovich assisted in the filing of a lawsuit against Prime Tanning Corp. of St. Joseph, MO in April 2009. The lawsuit claims that waste sludge from the production of leather, containing high levels of hexavalent chromium, was distributed to farmers in northwest Missouri to use as fertilizer on their fields. It is believed to be a potential cause of an abnormally high number of brain tumors (70 since 1996) around the town of Cameron, MO, which is currently being investigated by the EPA.
In June 2009, Brockovich began investigating a case of contaminated water in Midland, Texas. "Significant amounts" of hexavalent chromium were found in the water of more than 40 homes in the area, some of which have now been fitted with state-monitored filters on their water supply. Brockovich said "The only difference between here and Hinkley, is that I saw higher levels here than I saw in Hinkley."
Her story is the topic of a feature film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts in the title role. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing in a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Roberts won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Erin Brockovich herself had a cameo role as a waitress named Julia R. The name Julia R. was selected to parody the fact that Julia Roberts was playing Erin.
- PG&E Hinkley Chromium Cleanup California Environmental Protection Agency, 9/10/08
- Beverly Hills Mystery People Magazine. May 19, 2003, Accessed May 30, 2009.
- "More Brockovich Claims Tossed." Balance. Civil Justice Association of California. Third Quarter 2007, p.2.
- Beverly Hills Unified school District Press Release. Beverly Hills United School District. October 8, 2007.
- Lawsuit alleges fertilizer was contaminated around Cameron, Mo.
- "Brockovich: Midland, Texas Water Sullied." CBS News. June 10, 2009. Accessed June 10, 2009.