How a Forensic Toxicologist Helped Erin Brokovich

The film Erin Brokovich shows the real-life events of how the titular character and her attorney-employer convinced residents of Hinkley, CA to sue Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for damages. This is because many Hinkley residents suffered illnesses that were later attributed to PG&E’s negligence. The movie concluded with PG&E settling the case for $333 million, the largest settlement in U.S. history for a direct action lawsuit.

That time, Brokovich investigated and found that residents suffered from illnesses due to hexavalent chromium – now a recognized carcinogen – in their drinking water. Further investigation revealed that PG&E’s compressor station in Hinkley used water that contained hexavalent chromium. However, the water was stored in unlined ponds that severely contaminated soil and water wells near the station.

While Brovokich connected the residents’ illnesses to PG&E’s use of contaminated water, help was needed to establish that connection. For that, a forensic toxicologist was called in to examine the residents and to study the issue of chromium poisoning. Through caring treatment and meticulous testing, the toxicologist showed a material connection that was later used in the case.

Essentially, Brokovich’s investigation unearthed clues that needed an educated and experienced medical professional to solve them. Through the toxicologist’s assistance, Brokovich, her employer, and the Hinkley residents effectively demonstrated their case against PG&E.


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