Eco Warriors
When mom takes over
-By Rani Iyer

Only certain kinds of moms can do this. Erin Brockovich was one of them. After a car accident she was unemployed, with three kids to support. She begged her lawyer to give her a job in Hinkley. In the law office, Erin noticed that medical records were placed with the land records. She decided to investigate the reasons behind it.
Bordering the Mojave Desert, the town of Hinkley in California, was once a prosperous community. Many people and domestic animals in this town fell sick. Some died. Survivors were routinely troubled with breathing problems. A gas compressor station was the only major industry in the area. Was there a connection between these illnesses and the gas compressor station?
The station had several open, unlined ponds into which the wastewater was pumped.

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The pond water seeped into the water table! In December 1987, the company declared that there were high levels of Chrome 6 in the ground water. It was ten times above the limit permitted by the law. Chrome 6 is known as a carcinogen (cancer causing) since 1920's. It is dangerous to the lungs. The company began to buy buildings that they thought were affected the most and demolished them.
For decades, people had been breathing, drinking the contaminated water, and absorbing dangerous toxins into their bodies! Once Erin understood this, she decided to get the people to fight against the company. There were many hurdles in her way. Her first challenge was to convince her boss. Then she needed evidence to prove her theory to the people of the town. No one from the company would hand over the documents containing proof. In a busy law firm, people had their own cases. The responsibility of providing the proof fell on Erin.
Risking her life, and working odd hours to catch the company when they pumped out the wastewater, Erin managed to gather the evidence. Her neighbor looked after her kids when she put in long hours of work on the case. Only 77 people joined her case when they went to court in 1993. Erin did not give up. She went door to door and explained her cause to the people. Eventually nearly 650 people joined her fight.
The court battle was long, difficult, and tricky. The company spent a lot of money on the best lawyers to defeat Erin and her boss, Ed Marsy, in court. After fighting for 3 years, she won the case! In 1996 the court asked the company to pay $333 million to the people of Hinkley.
The story of Erin Brockovich was made into a movie recently. It serves as an inspirational reminder of the power of the human spirit.



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