The movie Erin Brockovich is a 2000 chef-d’oeuvre piece of art, which highlights effects of environmental pollution by industries across the world. The environmental issue raised in this film is water pollution by hexavalent chromium used by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in Hinkley, California.
In addition, the movie highlights an occupational health issue where employees working for PG&E are dying or suffering from tumors and a myriad of other diseases associated with exposure to carcinogenic levels of chromium 6. The residents of Hinkley also experience similar health problems.
The factors that have contributed to the water pollution issue are mainly related to corporate greed. According to memos written back in 1966, the senior management of the company knew about the carcinogenic effects of chromium 6 that the company was using, but the management did nothing to correct the situation.
In addition, the company’s headquarters forced the Hinkley plant’s management to keep the facts as a secret. The company acted irresponsibly without embracing corporate social responsibility where companies seek to better the wellbeing of the residents living around the premises of operations.
Another factor is the lack of political goodwill. Throughout the movie, there is no mention of the role of government in regulating corporate actions. The primary task of any government is to protect its citizens; however, the Californian authorities are lackluster in terms of cushioning citizens from the vagaries of corporate greed.
Socio-cultural issues also play a critical role in propagating the problem. The PG&E employees know that the levels of chromium 6 used by the company are carcinogenic. A certain employee claims to have seen memos back in the 1960s stating that the levels were harmful.
In fact, he was tasked with destroying the evidence. Unfortunately, the man decides to keep it a secret. This culture of not standing for the truth and justice contributes largely to the escalation of the problem. People have become so self-serving to the extent that they do not question the ideals that constitute well-being.
The man tasked with destroying the evidence that PG&E was acting irresponsibly perhaps received a kickback to remain silent on the issue. Unfortunately, his cousin, who was also an employee at the company, passes on and this aspect underscores the view that human beings have become self-destructive.
The issue of large corporations making profits at the expense of people’s health and wellbeing is widespread in the contemporary world. People are dying every other day due to exposure to dangerous levels of chemicals and materials used in the production of different products in the modern society.
The issue raised here is water pollution and thus this paper narrows down to it. Water is a vital requirement in the survival of every living thing. Therefore, if water is polluted, people, plants, and animals will start to die. Destroying the life on earth desolates the society.
A sick society is as good as a dead one because people become unproductive in many ways. A sick society translates to a sick and weak workforce, which means that the very companies contaminating water will soon shut down due to lack of efficient workforce.
If plants and animals die, it means that human life cannot be sustained due to the disruption of the food chain. Primarily, human beings depend on animals and plants for survival as primary producers in the food chain.
Water contamination disrupts the ecosystem and once the imbalance sets in, virtually all aspects of life are affected negatively. According to the World Health Organization, currently, “3.4 million people die annually due to water pollution related causes” (Caplan, 2013, p.381).
These rates are alarming and if the concerned authorities do not step in and arrest the situation, the annual deaths are likely to increase and soon human beings will have nothing to destroy, but themselves.
Several laws have been enacted to deal with the issue of water pollution by industries.
In the United States, the key acts include, “the Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, the Water Quality Act 1965, the Clean Waters Restoration Act, 1966, the National Environmental Policy Act, 1969, and the Water Quality Improvement Act, 1970” (Klementowicz, Master, Starck & Tunis, 2011,p.556).
Others include “the Safe Drinking Water Act, 1974, the Toxic Substances Control Act, 1976, the Clean Water Act PL, 1977, the Water Quality Act, 1987, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996, the Clean Water Act, 2000 and the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule, 2006” (Klementowicz et al. 2011, p. 556).
In the US, the Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) is charged with the responsibility of putting down and enacting the rules, policies, and regulations as discussed and agreed by the Congress.
The USEPA works in conjunction with local and state authorities via other sub-agencies concerned with the protection of the environment (Calhoun, 2009).
Unfortunately, these agencies have not been effective in dealing with the issue of industrial water pollution. This assertion holds as different companies have continued to contaminate the environment in violation of the set laws.
Even if these corporations are sued, the judicial process is dotted with protocols and victims continue to suffer. One of the most recent cases is that of Exxon Mobil Corp contaminating ground water in New York with poisonous gas additive.
Even though the Supreme Court upheld the 2009 ruling that the company should pay up to 105 million US dollars, the case has taken long and the victims of the contamination continue to suffer.
Prevention yields better results as compared to treatment and given that Exxon contaminated the water with the full knowledge of the existing laws, it is a clear indication that the set policies are not working. The objective here is to prevent not prosecute because it makes no sense to compensate a dying person.
The most recent case involving water pollution entangled the W.VA spill where it is evident that coal is polluting the American waters.
Environmental groups have noted grievous water “contamination problems caused by coal ash dumps at 31 locations in 14 states, bringing to over 100 the number of U.S. sites where damages from coal ash have been confirmed and strengthening the case for the release of delayed federal regulations” (Caplan, 2013, p.289).
The existence of these cases is a clear indication that the set policies and regulations have been a failure.
The most plausible recommendation to arrest the industrial water pollution issue is to implement the ‘zero discharge’ policy at organizational level. The 1976 policy touching on the same faced numerous challenges in its interpretation.
Whilst some quarters held that the policy zeroed on the pollutants present in wastewaters, others opined that it referred to the effluents themselves. Ruhl (2010) affirms, “This ‘zero-discharge’ goal did not refer to effluent itself, but to the pollutants in effluents…it meant that, in the long run, waste disposal and assimilation was no longer to be an acceptable use of water resources” (p. 1384).
The new ‘zero discharge’ policy should curtail the disposal of any pollutant or effluent to water bodies. With the ever-evolving technology, corporations should invest in coming up with ways of deadline with water pollution.
The government should be strict and impose stiff and punitive measures of dealing with errant companies. At societal and individual level, people should embrace humanity and revere life. Individuals running these corporations should start valuing human life humanity and abate their greed unreservedly.
The one major barrier that may face this suggestion is capitalism. While capitalist economy embodies numerous merits as opposed to its demerits, it is the genesis of corporate greed. Large corporations can challenge any punitive measure to control water pollution if it affects their profits.
Therefore, even if the government enacted the zero discharge policy, such corporations will move to courts for interpretation of the clauses. Another issue will be the ineffective judicial process, which might take years before any culprit is charged and fined.
Similarly, capitalism will be a challenge towards the implementation of water pollution control at individual level. Greed for extra money and wealth in most cases overrides logic and people end up acting selfishly.
The solution to the capitalism barrier would be to create a culture of valuing human life. People need to understand that the primary goal is to conserve life and that the abundance of it lies not in material things, but in its preservation and reverence.
In conclusion, the movie Erin Brockovich highlights the thorny issue environmental pollution and it paints a true picture of how corporations are annihilating life slowly due to greed to make extra money and create more riches.
Calhoun, Y. (2009). Environmental Issues: Water Pollution. New York, NY: Chelsea House Publishers.
Caplan, A. (2013). Water Quality Trading in the Presence of Abatement-Cost Sharing. Contemporary Economic Policy, 31(2), 279-290.
Klementowicz, H., Master, G., Starck, D., & Tunis, B. (2011). Environmental Crimes. American Criminal Law Review, 48(2), 541-628.
Ruhl, J. (2010). Ecosystem Services and the Clean Water Act: Strategies for Fitting New Science into Old Law. Environmental Law, 40(4), 1381-1399.