Erin Brokovich is back

Erin Brockovich is moving forward with a possible sequel to the investigation she led in California, this time in Australia.

Brockovich and the Westlake Village, Calif., law firm Masry & Vititoe earned acclaim for her sleuthing in Hinkley, which found that a California power company had polluted the water supply.

The investigation was turned into a 2000 movie that earned Julia Roberts a Best Actress Academy Award.

This time, Brockovich is leading a fight to help the town of Yarloop in Western Australia, where she believes people have become ill from exposure to emissions from the aluminum refinery Wagerup, owned by Alcoa Inc.

“The people in Yarloop remind me of the people in Hinkley,” said Brockovich of Agoura Hills, Calif. “Their job and plight isn’t to make Alcoa go away, it’s to get Alcoa to do right by the people who’ve been affected by Alcoa’s process.”

Alcoa denies doing anything injurious to the people of Yarloop.

“We are different than other companies,” Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery said. “People may want to paint all companies with a single brush, but we truly are different.”

The company’s position is that communication and engagement are the best way to resolve the issues that Brockovich is investigating, he said.

“We have said we’d be more than happy to brief her on this facility, and that invitation still sits,” Lowery said. “We have not heard from her directly.”

Brockovich got involved after a woman from Yarloop sent her an e-mail, saying she was sick with chronic nosebleeds, headaches and rashes. Brockovich didn’t become active right away because she was not working on international matters at the time.

However, she kept hearing about Yarloop from various people, which piqued her interest. About six to eight months ago, she decided to help a Brisbane, Australia-based law firm, Shine Lawyers, which has received information concerning 180 potential claims.

“We believe there could be as many as 250 or 300 potentially affected,” said Simon Morrison, the litigation partner in charge. Yarloop is a small town with a dwindling population, two hours south of Perth, Morrison said.

“The reason people have left the town is because of the perceived problems,” he said.

Brockovich has not been to Yarloop because she is allergic to sulfur, reportedly emitted in the refining process, but she said the people there live out in what some call “the bush.”

“It’s clean, safe living and they’re getting pushed out and it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said.

Just as she noted in the Hinkley case, Brockovich said one need not be a doctor or scientist to figure out that something’s wrong when hundreds of people in a community all have the same health problems — strange skins rashes, nosebleeds and headaches.

“That’s what I’m seeing again,” she said. “That’s what I’m dealing with again.”

Ed Masry, the Westlake Village lawyer she assisted in Hinkley, died in 2005. If he were alive, she believes he’d be supportive of her endeavor in Yarloop.

“I can hear him now,” she said. “‘Go for it, kid.’ ”

Headquartered in New York City, Alcoa is the world’s leading aluminum producer.

Alcoa has won numerous awards for the way it does business, Lowery pointed out. It rated among the 2007 “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by, and has been recognized by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Alcoa takes an ore called bauxite and sends it to a refinery in Yarloop, which refines it into alumina oxide, a white powder that gets sent to an aluminum smelter that converts it into aluminum.

The emissions in Yarloop are well within Australia’s standards, Lowery said.

Before deciding how to proceed, the law firm and Brockovich will conduct a complete investigation.

“We’re looking at some law firms in the United States to partner,” Brockovich said.

(Contact Stephanie Hoops of the Ventura County Star in California at


  1. Hexalectris

    Erin Brockovich is again full of . . . um . . . it
    By Michael Fumento

    Erin Brockovich hasn’t had much to laugh about this year
    This hasn’t been a good year for “America’s Sweetheart.” In one recent setback, in which she acted as plaintiff, she sued 31 hospitals she claimed were making unfair claims against Medicare. Her payoff would have been tremendous. But two separate judges tossed out all 31 cases, asserting that among other things Brockovich has no standing since she has no involvement in any way with Medicare nor was ever even treated by the hospitals in question. Any first-year law student could have told her that.

    Far worse for Brockovich was the November 22 Los Angeles County Superior Court decision to reject the first 12 cases in litigation her firm of Masry & Vititoe began in 2003 against the city of Beverly Hills, the school district, and a slew of oil companies. The suit claims an oil rig on the campus of Beverly Hills High School caused extraordinary high rates of several types of cancer among the approximately 11,000 alumni who attended between 1975 and 1997. Yet the firm never proffered the least evidence that, while some alumni certainly have suffered from cancer, the rig had or even was capable of causing the diseases in question.

    Now Brockovich is on the warpath against a proposed composting facility near the town that made her rich, Hinkley. She sides with those who insist that the material collected from municipal sewage systems would send harmful bacteria, viruses, or at the least nasty smells and flies towards the tiny California town. She’s done radio shows on the subject, as always has gotten tons of media attention, and she even paid to bring in a bus load of activists.

    But again, Brockovich is on the wrong side of reality.

    The compost company, Nursery Products of Apple Valley, California, only takes in biomass from area sewage systems that has already gone through a four-step clean-up process. After it arrives at the composting facility, the biomass is mixed with wood fiber and heated to 131 degrees as mandated by the EPA to kill bacteria.

    “The site without a doubt carries zero risk to public health and the environment,” Alan Rubin, chief author of the EPA’s regulation-setting standards on using and composting biosolids, told me. He’s now a consultant to Nursery Products but worked at the EPA for 28 years. “There will be no impact to groundwater, no impact on surface water, and windblown pathogens wouldn’t survive more than a few seconds” he said.

    As to smells and flies, the closest edge of Hinkley to the facility would be eight miles away – plenty of space for odors and insects to dissipate. On the other hand, the town has a dairy farm right next to its school. Thus on a daily basis the dairy exposes kids to raw manure with accompanying bacteria, smells, and flies. Ah! But that’s homegrown manure, bacteria, smells, and flies. Still, anything that embarrasses Brockovich and further reveals her as all breasts and no brains can’t be all bad.