MIDDLETOWN — Well-known environmental advocate Erin Brockovich urged those who attended the Alex and Lena Casper Memorial Lecture series Thursday night to become involved in their communities before a catastrophe happens.
When the Norfolk Southern train derailment occurred Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, Brockovich said she immediately started getting messages from concerned citizens about the toxic chemical fire. She went to East Palestine last month, talked to residents and appeared at one of the several high-profile town hall meetings.
Brockovich, speaking to a packed crowd inside Dave Finkelman Auditorium on the Miami University Middletown campus, said she has worked as an environmental activist for 30 years and she has “never seen as big a mismanaged fiasco” than in East Palestine.
“I feel so bad for the people,” she said.
At the town hall meeting, Brockovich and an attorney highlighted decades of toxic chemical train derailments. She has said throughout her appearances in East Palestine and again Thursday night that the nation has “covered up” disasters for decades due to potential damaging lawsuits.
Companies, she said, have delayed necessary infrastructure improvements, tighter regulations and faster response to protect the health, safety and welfare of communities from long-term bodily harm and environmental damage.
“Money over families,” she said. “Money over people. We can’t afford to devalue our water, our health, our families.”
She encouraged those in East Palestine to document everything they experience and if they don’t think the water is safe, don’t drink it. If they feel it’s unhealthy to live there, then leave.
“Superman isn’t here,” she said, referring to the title of her second book, “Superman’s Not Coming” that was released three years ago. “But we are here and it’s time for us to believe. The game changer is you. We can’t wait for the situation to happen, then respond. We are better than that. We can stop these type of disasters before they occur.”
Brockovich believes the train derailment can be a “unique moment, a teaching moment, a learning moment” because it may create more railroad regulations and lead to safer conditions.
Brockovich, 62, became a national celebrity after Julia Roberts portrayed her in the Oscar-winning Hollywood movie of the same name. The film showcased her role behind the largest medical settlement lawsuit in history.
Her exhaustive investigation uncovered that Pacific Gas & Electric had been poisoning the California town of Hinkley’s water for more than 30 years. With the help of attorney Ed Masry, the resulting 1996 tort injury settlement was the largest of its kind: $333 million in damages to more than 600 residents.
Masry & Vititoe, the law firm for which Brockovich was a legal clerk, received $133.6 million of that settlement, and Brockovich received $2.5 million as part of her fee.
So now Brockovich, president of Brockovich Research & Consulting, and actress Roberts, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in the movie, are forever linked.
Brockovich remembered one time when she was flying and after the TSA agent looked at her driver’s license, he asked: “Where’s Julia?”
The lecture series, started in 1973, is celebrating its 50th year, though it was cancelled since 2020 due to COVID-19.
About the Author