Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist who shot to prominence after her successful lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company in 1993, joins Christopher Booker to discuss her new book “Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis And What We The People Can Do About It,” and why she remains optimistic despite the dire situation.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan illuminated broader issues nationwide, ranging from contaminated drinking water to water shortages.
Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist who became well known for her successful lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company in 1993, is tackling the crisis in her recent book, "Superman's Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis And What We The People Can Do About It."
NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker reports.
So I wanted to start with the title. Why is Superman not coming?
Because I go to communities all the time that are dealing with water contamination, people who are sick and they always seem comforted by the fact: Well, OK, the EPA has shown up, so it is going to be okay or well, the Department of Health, why weren't they here, they should have our back, it's going to be OK. And I was always the one that was the bearer of bad news. I mean, no one's coming to fix this.
And after years spent looking into America's water supply, Brockovich has assembled an arsenal of bad news.
We all know about Flint, Michigan. There's two hundred more Flint, Michigans out there. There is one, if not multiple communities in every state across the United States of America and you may never think Flint will be you, but it's already you and they're just, they're everywhere.
In 2018, using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that nearly 30 million Americans drank water from community systems that violated the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule. Whether it's crumbling infrastructure, antiquated regulations, or chemicals being allowed to enter the water supply, Brockovich's book lays out a system well beyond the breaking point.
When you look at the United States, are we seeing these problems more acutely in underserved communities? Is this a question of disparity and inequality? Are communities that are perhaps economically distressed more likely to be facing these water issues?
You do see that. I have absolutely seen communities where it's socio-economic factors and they've been polluted.
I also see it in affluent communities and I've seen it in, you know, middle America — Hannibal, Missouri, where it's not rich, it's not the socio-economic situation where they can't get involved, but middle America. So it affects all of us and I think that's an important message.
While Brockovich's book paints a dire portrait of America's water crisis, she's optimistic.
While you argue that this is happening everywhere in the country, outside of Flint, is there anywhere in the country where a community is meeting this head on or is further down the line in addressing their water situation?
They are and we share those stories with you in the book. The ladies of Hannibal, Missouri. They're such amazing examples. So they had lead in their water some places higher than Flint because they used ammonia in the system. So it started with a couple of moms and I have to tell you, 99 percent of the time, every community we're in, it's one pissed off mom. I don't know if I can say that on PBS, but it's true. And they're like, oh, no, I'm not having this for my child or my neighbor's child or my sister's child. So they begin to activate.
They oftentimes will call us and we go out and we begin to educate them on what's going on with their system. In Hannibal, they took off. They went door to door and educated the town about ammonia and why it was causing lead. And so the community became involved. And as of March 2020, Hannibal, Missouri, now has lead-free water. I think that's amazing.
Imagine if every community across the board, every municipality across the board did that, we'd solve a problem.
What would you recommend to a viewer that sees this and says, you know, I think there may be something up with with my water supply.
The first step, know your water source.
I've had so many conversations. People are like, I don't know, my water company. I'm like, that's one of the first things you might want to find out. Look at your water bill and if you don't have or get every quarter some water quality report, which they have to give you – either get online, know who your water provider is. Get online or make a phone call and say, send me my water quality report and read it. That's the first step.
Take a step. Just take an action and don't come in with thinking I'm going to save the world. And don't come in with the fear, what if I'm wrong? Who cares if you're wrong? At least you asked. At least you found out. Knowledge is power.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
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