When most people think of Erin Brockovich, they think of Julia Roberts. But the real Erin Brockovich has been fighting for healthy communities and clean water almost every day since (and long before) Julia accepted her Oscar. Erin appears in the new documentary Last Call at the Oasis, and here is her latest report from the field.
What’s the biggest misconception in the U.S. about water?
Oh man, that’s a big question. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that we’re all on a municipal water system, when we’ve got over 39 million Americans on a well-water system that’s off the grid, being contaminated, and not being paid attention to. I think the next biggest misconception is that there’s some entity overseeing it all and that these problems shouldn’t concern us because they’re being taken care of—but they’re not. We have a groundwater problem because we can’t see the water and aquifers just beneath us, so we assume everything is OK. Overall, I think the very biggest misconception about water is that there’s plenty of it and it’s all clean, and that’s really not the truth.
You’ve recently been working hard on Trevor’s Law. What is it?
Trevor’s Law is very inspirational. Trevor is a young man in Idaho who had and beat a brain tumor. And he just made it his life’s work, as a youth, to try to get greater exposure for something I’ve been working on for years, which is: We have all these situations where there are cancers and brain tumors of unknown origin, and agencies that aren’t overseeing the problem or talking to one another about it. So he’s trying to get these agencies to come to Congress to listen and find ways to have better oversight, and to begin to investigate locations and possible causes. And I think he is a very admirable young man. He’s just looking for some answers, and he’s just so thankful that he beat it. But this is becoming an all-too-common scenario playing itself out all across America.
What specifically would the law do to address disease resulting from contaminated water?
It would get agencies to better communicate with each other. For instance, in my 20 years of experience working in the field, I’ll see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) come out and realize that there’s a problem, or they’ll have reports of health issues, yet they won’t report them back to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). So, the ball gets dropped between agencies. That’s a huge problem. And I don’t think any one agency knows the other agency is the one that’s supposed to be overseeing public health, safety, and welfare, especially when it’s a water pollution problem or some environmental disaster that hasn’t been addressed. So, some agency needs to begin to look at these communities, which are actually lost communities, and find out what is happening to the health and welfare of the people who live in them. So we hope we can get agencies to begin to speak to one another.
Where does the bill stand in D.C.?
I was recently up there speaking when Trevor was, and I think it’s interesting there were both Republicans and Democrats up there. I wish we’d get off the Republican-Democrat B.S., frankly, because this is a human rights issue, and it’s all of our issues, and we should be paying attention. I think there’s been some stall because each side sees it a different way. It’s just kind of like everything else: somebody’s at a stalemate and they don’t see eye-to-eye, and then the issue just gets dropped and forgotten. But I will continue to push forward, as I’m sure Trevor and other people will.