WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Erin Brockovich did not stop working to protect the environment or people from hazardous chemicals after she became famous for a movie named after her.
She said people living in southeastern North Carolina should be ready to fight for clean drinking water after it was revealed that GenX, an unregulated toxin, was dumped into the Cape Fear River.
"We cannot rely that when we turn our tap on anymore that our water is just safe," Brockovich said. "That has been proven time and time again. I have been doing this for 22 years. It sickens me that I'm having this conversation with you today and this community is having to deal with this."
The 2000 film Erin Brockovich is based on Brockovich's work to bring down California power company PG&E, which paid out $333 million in the largest settlement ever in a direct-action lawsuit in the United States. Brockovich's work as a legal clerk for Masry & Vititoe was the basis of the role played by Julia Roberts, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Brockovich.
GenX was found in the Cape Fear River, the primary raw water source for most of the southeastern portion of NC. Industry leaders admit that a better understanding of the chemical's effects on humans is needed. A meeting between the Chemours Company, which is the source of GenX being discharged into the river, and county and state officials is scheduled for Thursday.
Since the movie, Brockovich has continued her crusade fighting for people affected by companies who dump chemical waste into waterways.
Even though it's been more than two decades since she first took on PG&E, Brockovich said that sadly, some things are still the same.
"We put chemicals in the water first, use us as the guinea pigs and figure out what we're going to do later when science comes in and goes, 'Oh, wait a minute. This chemical causes cancer and we've been serving it to people for how long? Twenty years?'" she said. "So, frankly, I think they are doing it ass backwards. I think you should know good and well what that chemical is capable of doing should it get in the water and to the tap and people ingest in before you ever put it in our water supply."
Brockovich said that is a problem as well.
"This is their water, their health, their future, their safety," she said. "This is where transparency is key.
"No behind the door meetings. You're not out in front of this...The guys behind the closed doors are drinking it. We are. They are. I would demand transparency and if I was that community, I would show up in force at these meetings and I would let them know this is not OK."