By Toby Moore
For Capital Region Independent Media
Some events are so heinous that finding a positive aspect can be challenging. In these situations, the only ray of hope that remains is justice and accountability.
Erin Brockovich is a renowned environmental advocate who Julia Roberts depicted in the blockbuster film bearing her name. She was a leading force in bringing down a California power company that knowingly contaminated California’s water supply, leading to a surge in illnesses across the area. Brockovich stood up for the people destroyed by this environmental injustice — and won.
At the time, Brockovich was a single mother working as a legal assistant. Not someone we’d associate with having a powerful position capable of bringing justice against such a giant corporation.
Clean water is a cause we can get all get behind.
As you probably heard, a train carrying a hazardous chemical known as vinyl chloride derailed near East Palestine, Ohio.
Brockovich alleges the authorities then conducted a controlled chemical burn by dumping it into a bare hole, contaminating the water table, and setting it on fire.
The pictures in the media looked like they came from a war zone. It turns out that burning vinyl chloride produces a poisonous gas that the Germans used in World War I, which can lead to a heightened risk of rare liver, brain and lung cancers.
Brockovich began hearing from the community the very next day.
She quickly formed an organization called East Palestine Justice, consisting of attorneys, environmental activists, and scientific and medical experts. Her website states they are unafraid of taking on those that injure people in the blind pursuit of profit.
In a television interview on a major network, Brockovich was frustrated that the government had issued contradictory and confusing statements about what the residents should do. They said it was OK to drink the water; then they said to drink only bottled water.
Many farm animals in the area are dead and dying. Many locals claim they are dealing with headaches, difficulty breathing, rashes, projectile vomiting, the onset of asthma attacks and more.
In the watershed around East Palestine, some estimate up to 43,000 fish are now dead, and many of the animals that drink from the local waters are also sick or dying.
Brockovich said, “It’s a canary in a coal mine; if it’s not good for the animals, it’s not good for humans.” She claims a severe lack of transparency and, some say, a coverup.
A new federal lawsuit says wild animals are dying as far as 20 miles from the site.
The Ohio governor said, “Out of an abundance of caution, we have told people, use a bottle of water, don’t take a chance.” He then seemingly encouraged people to throw caution to the wind by drinking residents’ tap water on TV.
Brockovichhasbeen made aware that another compound called butyl acrylate has been detected outside the containment area and headed for the rivers.
“What worries me about the chemical is an additive connected to butyl acrylate … benzene. If benzene is in the water, that is a game changer. Communities need to be on high alert!”
What are the downstream effects? The chemicals will eventually make their way into the Ohio River and then flow into the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico.
As Brockovich wades through the data, what frustrates her is the lack of information given to us by the agencies that have deemed it safe for residents to return to the area.
She states matter of factly, “We have a real systemic problem in this country — aged-out infrastructure, lack of maintenance; profits over people.”
There is no positive spin here other than it may cause those in charge to create better safety protocols for the future so this doesn’t ever happen again. That will only happen if people get involved and demand accountability.
The right to clean water is a fundamental human right, and anyone who commits environmental crimes that jeopardize the health of millions must be held accountable.
Erin Brockovich is a giant slayer and has proven capable of overcoming tremendous odds. My hopes and prayers are with her and the people affected by this catastrophe.
Toby Moore is a columnist, the star of Emmy-nominated “A Separate Peace,” and the CEO of Cubestream Inc.