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[whitespace] Fighting the Clean Fight

Erin Brokovich praises local group's efforts when speaking at De Anza College

Cupertino--The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) held its annual anniversary celebration, celebrating its 18th year of activity, at the De Anza College Campus Center on Nov. 16. A visit by renowned environmental-rights crusader Erin Brockovich highlighted the day's activities that began during the afternoon with a press conference asking Pacific Gas and Electric to disclose all its potential sources of PCB contamination in local creeks.

Brokovich's case against PG&E was recently featured in the movie, Erin Brokovich, starring Julia Roberts. It focused nationwide attention to the problem of corporate pollution.

Brockovich worked with lawyer Ed Masry on a lawsuit against PG&E after her investigation of health records in Hinkley, Calif. After further investigation, she discovered PG&E's nearby compressor station had been leaking the toxic chemical, Chromium 6, into Hinkley's groundwater for decades, resulting in serious illnesses among its residents. In 1996, courts ordered PG&E to pay $333 million in damages to the citizens of Hinkley, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind that Brockovich and Masry spearheaded. Brockovich currently holds the position of director of environmental research for the law firm of Masry and Vititoe, the same firm she worked for during the PG&E case.

The Toxics Coalition awarded Brockovich its Debbie Cole Memorial Community Service Award at its anniversary event, which was themed "Catalysts for Community Empowerment and Corporate Responsibility." During a press conference before the event, Brockovich cited community grassroots organizations, such as the SVTC, as the best option citizens have to protect themselves against corporate exploitation of the environment. Larger groups, such as her law firm, "cannot reach every toxic case globally," she said.

However, she said she believes communities will help themselves once they know how. Brockovich says she receives about 200 emails a day from people requesting her assistance in dealing with issues of pollution.

Brockovich said she doesn't have any projects currently underway in the valley, but she lends her support to groups, such as SVTC that work to protect communities, workers and the environment from corporate pollution.

She also praised the efforts of a group of Pioneer High School students who earlier presented the results of an experiment that revealed the presence of PCBs in the creek behind their school. "It would be great if more kids took similar steps," Brockovich said.

The students and SVTC believe PG&E substations and maintenance facilities are probable point sources for PCB water contamination. SVTC and the students used the day's ceremonies to call on PG&E to "come clean" and present its records concerning past and present locations where PCBs were and are used.

The SVTC was founded 18 years ago in direct response to the discovery of groundwater contamination caused by leaking underground storage tanks at Fairchild Semiconductor and IBM. The tanks contained waste solvents. and the leaks were believed to have contaminated the underground water table that may have resulted in a cluster of birth defects in the San Jose neighborhood of Los Paseos.

SVTC has links to De Anza College through Julie Phillips and Kristin Jensen Sullivan, who both teach in the college's environmental program and serve on SVTC's board of directors.

The environmental program sponsored the event held at the campus center to give the students an opportunity to see the result of environmental principles put into action.
Kevin Fayle

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Web extra to the November 30-December 6, 2000 issue of Metro.

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