TCS Daily

Trial Lawyer TV: NBC Announces New Erin Brockovich Program

By Sallie Baliunas - October 24, 2001 12:00 AM

NBC said this week it will feature Erin Brockovich in a pilot for a one-hour syndicated talk show that could begin airing as soon as early next year. NBC's parent company, it is worth noting, is General Electric.

Brockovich was a legal assistant for trial lawyer Ed Masry in a law firm that successfully pressed a class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) on behalf of the residents of Hinkley, Calif.

A PG&E plant was fingered for leaking a rust-inhibitor called hexavalent chromate, or Chromium-VI, into the water near Hinkley. The lawsuit claimed elevated Chromium-VI in drinking water caused cancers as disparate as breast, uterine, prostate as well as other tumors. As Brockovich put it, the leaks "damaged the health of countless people who lived in and around Hinkley, Calif."

The corporate Goliath caved to the tune of $333 million -- while seemingly altruistic trial lawyer Davids racked up over $100 million in fees. Brockovich walked off with a couple million dollars and, more importantly, a narrative she could milk for the rest of her days, including the stylish movie about her activities.

The problem is, as the Hudson Institute's Michael Fumento has documented in meticulous and exhaustive detail , the suit against PG&E was based on shoddy science and hysteria.

There is no evidence that the Chromium-VI caused the cancers or illnesses alleged in the suit against PG&E. In September of 1998, two years after the settlement, the EPA concluded "no data were located in the scientific literature that suggested that [Chromium-VI] is carcinogenic by the oral route of exposure."

And after the state of California asked for a review of Chromium-VI`s toxicity in drinking water, the resulting Chromate Toxicity Review Committee report, issued in August of this year, confirmed the lack of evidence of carcinogenic effects of Chromium-VI.

The report`s Executive Summary stated unambiguously:

"We found no basis in either the epidemiological or animal data published in the literature for concluding that orally ingested [Chromium-VI] is a carcinogen, and a relatively large number of negative studies by the oral route of exposure, even at concentrations in excess of current [Maximum Contaminant Level]."

As for gastrointestinal cancers, the report reviewed the most advanced epidemiological studies, which "generally show no increase in risk of stomach or gastrointestinal cancer, or increases that do not meet the generally accepted criteria for causality (e.g. dose-response)."

What makes NBC giving Brockovich a TV show truly strange, though, is that its parent corporation, General Electric, should know better. GE has had recent problems combating shoddy science and extreme trial lawyers.

For years GE legally discharged polychlorinated biphenyls, called PCBs, into the Hudson River in New York. PCBs were used in the production of many GE products such as transformers and adhesives. In late summer, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman endorsed a Clinton-era plan to dredge the Hudson River of PCBs and stick GE with a bill totaling $460 million.

The EPA handed down this ruling without showing that humans were endangered by either the PCBs in the riverbed or from eating fish caught in the Hudson. As Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health said in The Wall Street Journal, "there is no credible evidence that PCB exposure in the general environment, in fish, or even at very high levels in the workplace, has ever led to an increase in cancer risk."

While costly dredging of the Hudson won't protect either health or the environment, it may well cause significant disruptions to the local ecology and the economy.

General Electric had it right at the time of Whitman's ruling, when it issued a statement saying "it appears that neither sound science nor the voices of these residents played a part in the EPA`s decision."

So this makes it all the more disappointing that GE's network NBC would reward Erin Brockovich -- the poster figure for trial lawyer excess and the assault on sound science -- with a platform to air her views.


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