Residents of Flint will be eligible for compensation after their drinking water was contaminated with toxic lead in 2014.
Erin Brockovich’s new book is about the water that comes from our taps, but it’s also about the power that comes from ourselves.
“We’ve stopped believing in ourselves, and you need to get there to fight not only for the environment, but anything that’s going on in your life,” Brockovich tells USA TODAY.
Brockovich’s new book, “Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It,” out Tuesday (Pantheon, 384 pp.), explores problems from contaminated drinking water to water shortages due to climate change. And as weighty as those issues may seem, she also provides action steps for people concerned about their own water, and tells the empowering stories of people speaking up about water contamination in their communities.
Brockovich herself is known for speaking up, as dramatized in the eponymous Oscar-winning Julia Roberts film (2000) about her fight against energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company for its role in groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California, which she linked to a cluster of illnesses in the early 1990s. “Ultimately, the Hinkley case taught me that pollution happens, that it affects us all, and that corporations try to cover it up,” Brockovich writes.
When she took on PG&E, Brockovich was a file clerk at a law firm. Now, she’s a well-known environmental activist, consumer advocate, author (she also wrote a memoir and two mystery novels) and, most recently, a podcaster.
Environmental Working Group study: Even ‘safe’ drinking water poses risk
“Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It,” by Erin Brockovich. (Photo: Pantheon)
Chromium-6 and other water contaminants
Water concerns go far beyond the hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, in the water in Hinkley and the much-publicized lead in water in Flint, Michigan.
Communities across the nation are dealing with a variety of contaminants due to unregulated chemicals and unknown toxins, illegal dumping, unintended chemical spills, fracking, crumbling water infrastructure and problematic water treatment, Brockovich asserts.
“Scientists still have little data about how individual chemicals impact our health, and know even less about the effects of multiple chemicals on the body,” she writes.
Some contaminants are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, but Brockovich and environmental groups maintain that maximum contaminant levels are often set too high, and new chemicals routinely affect the water supply but are not regulated.
There are water heroes among us
The drinking water problems exposed in Brockovich’s book may be troubling to readers, but they’re offset by just as many people fighting for clean water.
They include veterans from Camp Lejeune, a military base in North Carolina, who were exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents and other chemicals. And a water plant administrator in Poughkeepsie, New York, who stopped using chloramine to treat the city’s water after concerns were raised about the chemical’s effects on pipe corrosion. And citizens in Hannibal, Missouri, who started a petition and ran for city council (and won) to remove chloramines from the treatment process.
Water issues are complex, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent, Brockovich says, noting that you don’t have to be a scientistto know something is wrong when your water is discolored or smells funny.
“It comes back to observation and intuition,” she says.
Superman won’t save us when it comes to water woes, and neither will environmental agencies or governments, Brockovich contends.
But she wants the book to help “people to take action. And they oftentimes don’t know how. (Don’t) just assume that an agency has got this covered because oftentimes they don’t.”
Brockovich includes action steps throughout the book, ranging from attending public meetings and looking at your city’s annual water report to testing your own water and crafting a petition.
Brockovich’s related projects
Erin Brockovich (Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brockovich)
Releasing the book in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and nationwide calls for racial equality and justice was not what Brockovich intended, but she thinks it’s a good time for a reset when it comes to environmental issues.
“COVID may have given us that pause to take a look behind the curtain,” she says.
“While the book does focus on a water crisis, there are a lot of tools in there that you can apply to what’s going on. What’s most important is you step back for a moment. Ask yourself, ‘What action can I take?’ When everything feels out of control, you come back to yourself. … If no one’s coming, you need to rely on yourself.”
Brockovich won’t let herself become complacent. In addition to the book, she also launched a weekly podcast with PodcastOne last week, called “Superman’s Not Coming with Erin Brockovich,” focusing on people fighting for the environment and social justice.
And she’s revamping Community Healthbook, a map that’s dedicated to tracking health issues that could be tied back to water or other environmental issues.
“I love this planet and I know we can still save it,” she writes in the book. “I show up because I love my family and I want them to live in a world with clean water.”
“Water pollution is one of the greatest risks to human health, and few of us realize the intensifying burdens on our country’s water resources until these problems turn up at our door.”
Live chat with Erin Brockovich Wednesday
What: Tune in on to @usatoday on Instagram for a live chat with the environmental activist.
When: Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT.
Details: Write in questions in real time time on Instagram or replay it afterward via @usatoday on Instagram.
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