California stinkbombs

Becky Fenger Fenger PointingShe's baaaaack! Like a bad penny, Erin Brockovich (below), the paralegal queen of junk science jackpots, returned this month to Hinkley, California.

Let's review the endowed activist's claim to fame, just in case you missed the 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts who, in a marvel of bodily engineering, mustered up enough cleavage to play the role.

Brockovich convinced 650 residents of Hinkley to sue Pacific Gas and Electric for allegedly giving them cancer and all manner of other maladies. The lawsuit accused the giant power company of allowing an ionized form of chromium, chromiun-6, to leech into the town's water supply. Chromium-6 (also known as hexavalent chromium) is a carcinogen if inhaled over extended periods of time but quite harmless if swallowed in the trace levels found in Hinkley's water supply. Even the often-alarmist Environmental Protection Agency stated in a 1998 report on chromium-6: "No data were located in the available literature that suggested it is carcinogenic by the oral route of exposure."

Erin BrockovichA panel of for-hire judges – some of whom socialized with the plaintiffs' lawyers – awarded a $333 million settlement to the town folks. Erin got a cool $2 million. At the time, science writer Michael Fumento pointed out that the settlement "blithely ignores thousands of pages of medical records and the testimony of medical experts and scientists." Further epidemiological surveys showed that Hinkley actually had a lower rate of cancer than expected in communities, and no new findings have surfaced to change the EPA's 1998 report.

Nevertheless, Brockovich made her way back to Hinkley this month to broadcast new claims that an even wider area around Hinkley is now "contaminated" by chromium-6. My lord but that woman must have run through her $2 million fast!

An AP reporter was forced to note that "The reported chromium levels are low enough not to violate drinking water standards" in Hinkley, but didn't deign to do so until deep into the Erin-friendly story. The only data connecting cancer and chromium-6 that could be dredged up involved inhalation among highly-exposed arc welders. Is there anyone other than Charlie Sheen who would "snort" water?

To me, Brockovich is just a dame jumping into the deep pockets of companies for a big payout. It pleases me that she lost her lawsuit, filed in 2003, against the city of Beverly Hills and several oil companies for the "fumes" from active oil wells under Beverly Hills High School's campus. Brockovich claimed the fumes gave the students cancer, insomnia and "tingling sensations." Show me a teenager who doesn't have "tingling sensations," will you?

Equally smelly is the news out of San Francisco that their eco-friendly low-flow toilets are stinking up the place. It took the United Kingdom's Daily Mail to uncover the story. The tiny amounts of water in the "green" toilets is insufficient to push the waste away fast enough, causing sludge to back up inside the sewer pipes. Eeeeewwwww.

"It has created a rotten-egg stench near AT&T Park – home to the San Francisco Giants – and other parts of the Bay Area, especially during the summer months," states the March 1 article. Now the city has to flush $14 million worth of concentrated bleach to disinfect treated water before it is pumped into San Francisco Bay and to sanitize tap water.
Where is Erin Brockovich with a lawsuit when there are some fumes really worth worrying about? And she wouldn't even have to leave California.

Quoteworthy: "Just more of the same gets old fast. If I think back to last year's Earth Hour, I don't think it was as big a deal because, you know, novelty normalizes and this is no longer a novelty." ~ Mark Sarner, market specialist for non-profits, commenting on why people around the world were ho-hum about turning off their lights for Earth Hour last Saturday.