Many will surely remember the groundwater contamination scandal that took place in the 1990’s Southern Californian town of Hinkley. Here an ordinary yet exceptional Masry & Vititoe legal clerk named Erin Brockovich became suspicious of the nature of the mysterious spread of various illness and diseases affecting local dwellers. After deep investigation she would understand the gravity of the disaster and individuate the principal culpable firm of the water pollution in The Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). Brockovich and the legal firm she was working for would consequently bring about the biggest US direct-action lawsuit against this major company of that time. PG&E was in fact guilty of hexavalent chromium contamination from one of its plants into the groundwater. In 1996, finally, Masry & Vititoe managed to win the case settled for $333 million.
“If you follow your heart, if you listen to your gut, and if you extend your hand to help another, not for any agenda, but for the sake of humanity, you are going to find the truth” Erin Brockovich.
Today, twenty years later, history repeats itself.
Since 2014 another American town, Flint, Michigan, has indeed been facing the exact same type of concerns derived from water contamination. It all started out when, as to cut expenditures, Flint switched from the Detroit city water system to the use of Flint River as the town water-provider. But since the very beginning of this new chapter, Flint residents started to denounce the bad odour, colour and poor quality of the river water. Albeit being continuously reassured of the drinkability and the safety of the latter by city and state authorities, today we know that the extremely preoccupying high levels of lead found in that strangely yellow-tinted water could have actually and heavily affected residents’ health and lives. These very levels, discovered in local children, might indeed cause future learning difficulties and behaviour problems. This gave rise to a legal battle that is still raging on in US courts of law.
Same country, same problem. But new faces.
The aspiring first-woman-ever US president is currently siding with Flint residents in their fight against Michigan governor Rick Snyder, held responsible for lying about the river water quality. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been, in fact, recently endorsed by both Baltimore attorney Bill Murphy, leader of the big legal class action on behalf of Flint residents, and by new Flint mayor Karen Weaver. A couple of weeks ago, however, Snyder himself publicly apologised for his misconduct and carelessness on the issue and promised funds to make up to the damage brought on over the last two years. In the meantime Flint has been reconnected to the Detroit water system as it had been doing for the 50 years that preceded that highly regrettable and detrimental decision.
“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action.”
Riccardo Scroppo is a first-year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Manchester