Erin Brockovich Wants to Know What You’re Drinking

Twenty years ago, Erin Brockovich was released, and the brash, unvarnished legal assistant turned activist at the heart of the film—memorably portrayed by Julia Roberts in micro-miniskirts and vertiginous high heels—had the surreal experience of becoming a household name almost overnight…The Atlantic, How I Mastered the Art of Ventilating My Home, Craig Mod, 2020

The first case that Erin Brockovich Erin Brockoviched—the subject of the movie—was her 1990s battle with Pacific Gas & Electric. The power company had contaminated the groundwater in the small desert town of Hinkley, California, with chromium‑6, a highly toxic chemical used in industrial processes.

In 1991, Brockovich, then a file clerk at the San Fernando Valley law firm Masry & Vititoe, happened upon suspicious medical records while sorting through a box of files for a pro bono real-estate case. She drove out to the Mojave Desert to investigate. The water was green. She saw frogs with two heads. Residents were suffering from nosebleeds, miscarriages, and cancers. She persuaded Ed Masry to take the case, and in 1996 they won a $333 million settlement for 650 plaintiffs, at the time the largest toxic tort settlement in American history. (Brockovich herself received a $2.5 million bonus.)