It's been 19 years since consumer advocate Erin Brockovich won a famous lawsuit against PG&E over water contamination that led to cancers and other serious illnesses among the town’s 600 residents. It's been 11 years since Julia Roberts won an Oscar portraying Brockovich. And like the Environmentalist Energizer Bunny, Brockovich is still going strong!
Today, she urged senators today to pass "Trevor's Law," which would document "disease clusters," or an unusual number of health events, grouped together in a time and location. For example, one well-known disease cluster happened in Camp Lejune, North Carolina. Over 60 male breast cancer cases (plus more cases of childhood cancer and birth defects) were diagnosed among Marine vets and family members who used to live there. The reason?
The base’s well water was contaminated for decades before toxic wells were closed in 1984.
Now, this is something you'd THINK the government (cough - the EPA? - cough) would already have a handle on, right?
But apparently no, they do not, and that's why Brockovich has become somewhat of an "informal reporting agency" for people who have grave concerns about possible disease clusters. She told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today:
Thousands of Americans contact me every month asking for help and telling me about unexplained diseases in their neighborhood or on their streets.
She's amazing, but why should she have to be doing a job that's clearly the Fed's responsibility, e.g. documenting and investigating disease clusters?
I know that in the cul-de-sac where my mom grew up, and where my grandparents lived for 30+ years, just about every person of my grandparents' generation who were residents there for decades ended up dying of cancer. My mom always said she thought it was because the neighborhood was adjacent to high-tension wires. There are even more mysterious causes of illness all over the country, and it's about time we start paying attention and doing something about it! Hopefully, it could lead to both corporations like PG&E and the government having to show more accountability for their actions.
Thankfully, Brockovich isn't alone in her fight. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer from California and Republican Senator Mike Crapo (what an unfortunate name, huh) from Idaho are co-sponsoring Trevor's Law, which would hopefully increase coordination, transparency, and accountability when federal agencies address potential disease clusters.
The bill is named for Trevor Schaefer, a 21-year-old survivor of brain cancer from Crapo's home state who was diagnosed at 13 years old, and who was one of five people in his Idaho town diagnosed with the same disease around the same time. Schaefer, who testified at the hearing today as well, said that he and his family are currently fighting for better investigations into what causes cancer clusters.
While it may seem like just another thing we as a country are burdened with worrying about, I really do think there's some urgency here to pass Trevor's Law. As Boxer pointed out, U.S. childhood cancer rates have increased by more than 20 percent from 1975 through 2007. Of course, genetics play a role, and diet, lifestyle, etc. But hmm ... when otherwise healthy kids get cancer, you have to realize environmental factors are at play, too. Clearly, it's time to pass a formal law and get a better grasp on what's killing us, so we can preempt these tragic events.
Do you think the Senate should pass Trevor's Law?
Image via Brockovich.com