The Case of Erin Brockovich and The Issue of Water Quality

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 817 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 817|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Erin Brockovich Case: A Brief Overview
  3. The Legal Battle: Private Arbitration vs. Trial
  4. Discrepancies in the Movie vs. Real Events
  5. Societal and Environmental Impacts
  6. Ethical Considerations and Lessons Learned
  7. Conclusion


The Erin Brockovich case is an iconic legal battle that unfolded in Hinkley, California, between 1993 and 1996. This case pitted Erin Brockovich, a determined customer advocate and environmental lobbyist, against the Pacific Gas & Electric Co (PG&E). The crux of the matter lay in PG&E's use of a highly toxic anti-corrosive chemical known as chromium 6 between 1952 and 1966. This chemical contamination of the water supply in Hinkley and its adverse effects on the residents triggered a series of events that led to one of the most significant environmental lawsuits in American history.

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This essay aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the Erin Brockovich case, delving into various aspects such as the legal battle's choice between private arbitration and a trial, discrepancies between the real events and their portrayal in the movie, societal and environmental impacts, and the ethical considerations and lessons learned from this landmark case.

The Erin Brockovich Case: A Brief Overview

The Erin Brockovich case began with a seemingly ordinary individual who turned into an unlikely hero. Erin Brockovich, a divorced mother, found herself embroiled in legal matters following a car accident that required neck surgery. In her pursuit of justice, she sought legal representation from the law firm Masry & Vititoe, albeit receiving minimal compensation for her own case. It was during her tenure as a file clerk at the firm that she stumbled upon crucial documents related to PG&E's activities.

Brockovich's investigations unveiled the shocking truth: PG&E had been adding 370 million gallons of hexavalent chromium, also known as Chromium 6, to Hinkley's water supply. This chemical, used by PG&E to prevent rust in its water-cooling system, had contaminated the groundwater used by Hinkley residents for various purposes, including drinking and swimming. Moreover, Chromium 6 exposure led to a host of severe medical issues, including lung disease, stomach problems, and even cancer.

Fueled by her findings, Erin Brockovich, with the support of Ed Masry, filed a lawsuit against PG&E. The legal battle that ensued ultimately resulted in a monumental victory for the Hinkley residents, with a total settlement of approximately $333 million.

The Legal Battle: Private Arbitration vs. Trial

One crucial aspect of the Erin Brockovich case was the choice between private arbitration and a trial. Contrary to the depiction in the movie, the case never went to trial. Instead, PG&E and the plaintiffs opted for private arbitration, involving a panel of judges who could be hired.

Private arbitration raised significant concerns. It favored those with the financial means to participate fully and raised conflicts related to interests and opinions. Moreover, PG&E engaged in discussions with the plaintiff's attorneys before the trial, raising ethical concerns about potential bias and collusion.

The movie's portrayal did not accurately represent these legal complexities, downplaying the impact of private arbitration on the case's outcome and the broader implications of this choice.

Discrepancies in the Movie vs. Real Events

While the movie "Erin Brockovich" captivated audiences with its portrayal of the David-and-Goliath battle between Brockovich and PG&E, it inevitably took creative liberties. Several key points were either misrepresented or omitted entirely in the film.

One notable discrepancy is the portrayal of a trial, which never occurred in reality. Instead, the private arbitration process was employed, leading to different dynamics and outcomes. This creative decision in the movie could misinform viewers about the true nature of the legal battle.

Additionally, the film did not shed light on the financial complexities faced by the Hinkley residents. Many of them sued for smaller amounts than they were entitled to, as they had agreed to a 40% settlement with their lawyers. However, clients were unexpectedly charged an extra $10 million for costs, and lawyers withheld the award money for six months before distribution.

Moreover, the citizens' complaints regarding the inconsistent amounts awarded to different plaintiffs and the absence of a comprehensive review of their medical records were not adequately addressed in the movie, leaving viewers with a less nuanced understanding of the case's intricacies.

Societal and Environmental Impacts

Beyond its legal aspects, the Erin Brockovich case had far-reaching societal and environmental impacts. The case shed a spotlight on the issue of water contamination, sparking nationwide concern and dialogue about water quality and safety.

Erin Brockovich's work, in tandem with other studies, revealed that the Hinkley case was not an isolated incident. An estimated 200 million Americans across all 50 states were exposed to Chromium 6 at unsafe levels. This revelation prompted the media and the public to become increasingly concerned about the quality of their water sources and the risks associated with contamination.

Furthermore, various industries reported the release of chromium into the environment, emphasizing the urgent need for stricter regulations and oversight. For instance, in 2009, the electric power industry acknowledged releasing 10.6 pounds of chromium into the environment. Studies consistently demonstrated that even minimal exposure to Chromium 6 could lead to severe health issues, including cancer.

Environmental activists compelled the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add Chromium-6 to the list of chemicals that local utilities must monitor under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. This rule mandated periodic evaluations of public water systems, further underscoring the significance of the Erin Brockovich case in raising awareness and prompting regulatory action.

Ethical Considerations and Lessons Learned

The Erin Brockovich case gave rise to numerous ethical dilemmas. It exposed corporate misconduct by PG&E, revealing the company's negligence in safeguarding the health of the Hinkley residents. Additionally, ethical questions arose concerning the conduct of attorneys who represented the plaintiffs. The sudden imposition of an extra $10 million in costs and the delay in award distribution raised concerns about transparency and fairness.

One of the essential lessons from the Erin Brockovich case is the need for corporate accountability and responsibility in safeguarding the environment and public health. It highlighted the power of grassroots activism and individual commitment in exposing wrongdoing and advocating for justice.

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The Erin Brockovich case remains an enduring symbol of environmental activism and legal triumph. This essay has explored various facets of the case, from its inception to its legal intricacies, societal and environmental impacts, and ethical considerations. While the movie adaptation captured the essence of the case, it inevitably took creative liberties. As a result, it is essential to delve into the true story behind the film to appreciate fully the legal, ethical, and environmental dimensions of this remarkable case. The Erin Brockovich case has left an indelible mark on American consciousness, serving as a stark reminder of the importance of transparency, accountability, and collective action in safeguarding public health and the environment.


  1. Brockovich, E., & Roberts, C. (2001). Take it from me: Life’s a struggle, but you can win. McGraw-Hill.
  2. Hogan, R. (1998). The toxic tragedy of Hinkley, California. Environmental Health Perspectives, 106(5), A234-A241.
  3. Silverstein, M. A., & Aratani, L. F. (2002). Erin Brockovich and the Beverly Hills greenscam. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(10), A592-A595.
  4. Gleick, P. H. (2019). The world’s water: The biennial report on freshwater resources 2019. Island Press.
  5. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Chromium (hexavalent) in drinking water.
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The Case Of Erin Brockovich And The Issue Of Water Quality. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“The Case Of Erin Brockovich And The Issue Of Water Quality.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
The Case Of Erin Brockovich And The Issue Of Water Quality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
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