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“Erin Brockovich” Film and 2014 Flint Water Crisis


The physical and natural environments affect human life in various ways, as outlined by ecological studies. Environmental education is essential in informing individuals on how to deal with ecosystems to attain life sustainability. When discussing the environment, chief elements like soil, organisms, air, water, and solar energy have to be incorporated. This paper analyzes the movie, Erin Brockovich, and compares it with the current situation in Flint, which started in April 2014.

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Plot summary of the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Erin, a single mother, approaches a lawyer, Ed Masry, to represent her in a case of injuries resulting from an automobile accident. Unfortunately, Erin loses the case, and the lawyer offers her a job as an office clerk (Erin Brockovich 2000). In the regular filling duties, Erin discovers a pro bono case against the Pacific Gas and Electronic Company in San Francisco. Erin conducts researches on families that have been affected by the pollutions from the public utility through various investigations and interviews.

Although lawyer Ed feels threatened to sue such a huge company, there is enough evidence gathered by Erin regarding industrial poisoning of the water supply within the city emanating from the enterprise (Erin Brockovich 2000). After the lawsuit, the Pacific Gas and Electronic Company is found liable, and it is forced to pay a settlement of $333 million as compensation for the damages caused to the area residents.

Current situation of Flint, Michigan since April 2014

Flint has been experiencing a water crisis due to the presence of contaminated drinking water from early 2014 (Jones, 2016). According to Virginia Tech researchers, the water emanating from the Flint River is nineteen times more corrosive as compared to alternative sources like Lake Huron (Hanna-Attisha, LaChance, Sadler, & Champney Schnepp, 2016). Lead components pose serious health dangers to the American people, especially those residing in Michigan. Iron elements have also been found in the water, and the residents are often skeptical of whether proper treatment is done before final supplies (Bellinger, 2016).

Several public health problems, including inflating concentrations of the E. coli bacteria and the abrupt outbreak of the legionnaire’s disease that killed ten people, have been associated with water contamination. Despite the claim by the state officials that the water is safe for consumption, the class-action lawsuit alleges instances of lead poising and severe medical complications resulting from the intake of contaminated water since the switch in 2014. Due to the allegations of the failure of state officials to apply corrosive inhibitors, multiple lawsuits have been initiated, instigating further investigations on the water crisis issue.

Similarities of the movie to the situation in Flint

Manufacturing industries, especially those in the massive use of chemicals, emit harmful products into the atmosphere, including gases and metallic elements such as lead and iron (Laidlaw et al., 2016). Adverse effects on the human body result in disease infections due to various unprotected contact with poisonous industrial raw materials, by-products, and end residues of the production process. The situation depicted in the movie highlights various infections due to the pollution emanating from the Pacific Gas and Electronic Company. The company becomes environmentally irresponsible by causing leakages of chromium 6 in domestic water (Steenland, Savitz, & Fletcher, 2014).

The contamination of chromium 6 proves fatal by exposing victims to infections such as asthma, irritation of the eyes, kidney damage, skin complications, allergic reactions, and respiratory cancer, among other hazardous effects. The cancer infection of Jensen’s family in the Erin Brockovich movie is due to the negligence of the Pacific Gas and Electronic Company that causes chromium 6 poisoning (Hempel, 2015). Six hundred and thirty-four signatures confirm the accusation that Erin corrects from plaintiffs that seek compensation due to the offense of industrial poisoning by the company (Erin Brockovich 2000).

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The case in the movie coincides with the situation at Flint. Just like the Pacific Gas and Electronic Company is alleged to pollute groundwater by poisonous elements of chromium 6, the Michigan state officials in charge of the water department have been accused of contaminating drinking water with elements of lead and iron (Bellinger, 2016).

The public water supplies in Flint pose health hazards to the residents due to corrosion of lead pipes while showing no efforts to shift to copper and plastic pipes, which are safer. The municipal water supplies in Michigan have also been accused of failure to disinfect drinking water to kill pathogens such as bacteria, protozoa, and viruses that are responsible for disease infections (Laidlaw et al., 2016).

The effects of lead poisoning are cumulative and irreversible in nature in particular among the sensitive population segments such as children, pregnant women, and fetuses. The contamination causes stunting of growth among children, learning disabilities, damage to the nervous system, and the development of antisocial behavior among the infected individuals (Hanna-Attisha et al., 2016). Additionally, excessive components of iron in drinking water, as experienced in Flint, causes an unpleasant metallic taste. The detrimental health effects of high volumes of iron are anemia and warding off fatigue.

Differences between the movie and the current situation in Flint

Although, in both cases, there is the contamination of water leading to disease infections, the contributing factors are different. The chromium 6 contamination of ground water illustrated in the movie is due to the inadequate disposal mechanism of waste products by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (Hempel, 2015). The company recklessly discards the final products, which results in leakages into water supplies. The effects of chromium 6 do not only lead to environmental threats, but they also pose serious health complications including cancer and miscarriages (Steenland et al., 2014).

On the other hand, the contamination of water in Flint beginning from April 2014 arose after shifting the source from Detroit water supply to the present Flint River (Jones, 2016). The lead poisoning of the drinking water is attributed to the corrosion of the old and outdated piping system that the state water department uses to supply water to the citizens. The average lead level of the water originating from Flint River surpasses the recommended levels of ten parts per billion (ppb) as confirmed by samples of most households.

Prescriptions on how to prevent water pollution

Both liquid and solid wastes from industrial processes act as threats to the sustainable development and environmental preservation (Yeheyis, Hewage, Alam, Eskicioglu, & Sadiq, 2013). The Pacific Gas and Electronic Company should ensure the use of aerobic and anaerobic processes as biological techniques and precipitation, reduction, and neutralization as chemical methods of waste treatment before disposal. Recycling of waste is also vital by recovering valuable materials from waste products.

Additionally, the Flint water crisis can be solved by changing the piping systems from zinc pipes to alternative copper and plastic pipes that are resistant to corrosion. The Michigan water department should consider changing its water source from Flint River to Lake Huron.

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The movie, Erin Brockovich, highlights a scenario on how negligent disposal of industrial waste poses both environmental and human hazards. The verdict of the court that demands the Pacific Gas and Electronic Company to pay a settlement of $133 million demonstrates the hazardous levels caused by chromium 6contamination of water in the area. Similarly, the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint since 2014 has amounted to serious health problems and even death. Water is a critical environmental component and its safety before consumption should be ensured.


Bellinger, D. C. (2016). Lead Contamination in Flint—An Abject Failure to Protect Public Health. TheNew England Journal of Medicine, 374, 1101-1103.

Hanna-Attisha, M., LaChance, J., Sadler, R. C., & Champney Schnepp, A. (2016). Elevated blood lead levels in children associated with the Flint drinking water crisis: a spatial analysis of risk and public health response. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2),283-90.

Hempel, M. (2015). The uses and limitations of film in environmental education. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 5(2), 237-239.

Jones, C. (2016). Achieving health equity: The crisis in Flint, and what should be done next. The Nation’s Health, 46(2), 3-6.

Laidlaw, A., Filippelli, G., Sadler, C., Gonzales, R., Ball, S., & Mielke, W. (2016). Children’s Blood Lead Seasonality in Flint, Michigan (USA), and Soil-Sourced Lead Hazard Risks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(4), 358-59.

Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2000). Erin Brockovich [Film]. New York, NY: Universal Pictures.

Steenland, K., Savitz, D. A., & Fletcher, T. (2014). Commentary: Class action lawsuits: can they advance epidemiologic research? Epidemiology, 25(2), 167-169.

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Yeheyis, M., Hewage, K., Alam, M. S., Eskicioglu, C., & Sadiq, R. (2013). An overview of construction and demolition waste management in Canada: a lifecycle analysis approach to sustainability. Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy, 15(1), 81-91.

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