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Erin Brockovich Investigates WV Water Crisis, Holds Town Hall

Reported: Jan. 13, 2014 10:47 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 14, 2014 12:45 AM EST
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Charleston, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) A well known activist is in Charleston, a woman who is very familiar with dealing with what the region is going through: contaminated water.

If you're not familiar with Erin Brockovich, she's a legal researcher and environmental activist. She's been instrumental in several major lawsuits, most notably a 1993 case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which involved a chemical contamination of a California water supply and resulted in one of the largest settlements in US history: $330 million. That case went on to become the subject of an Oscar-winning film named for Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts.

Brockovich said what's happened in the Mountain State is deeply concerning and she hopes it is a national wake-up call.

"I hope, here in West Virginia, that it's an eye-opener for the entire nation that this could happen," she said. "Our water and our waterways could be poisoned in several different ways and, when it is, it is a disaster - especially when it starts affecting municipalities and hundreds of thousands of people."

And with the famed environmentalist using her star power to draw attention to what's happened in West Virginia, the alarm bells could ring louder. It's the kind of wake-up call Alice Frame has been hoping for, after being affected by both this week's water crisis, as well as something even more deeply personal.

"Does it frustrate you, make you mad even, that this happened in the first place and a chemical was able to get into the water supply?" Eyewitness News asked.

"Yes, it does," Frame said. "Because until you live the life and walk the walk, especially with somebody being exposed to contamination. And we survived, but you have no idea and it does make you made."

Frame's husband James left the Mountain State in the 1980s to work at a South Carolina nuclear power plant, and it ended up having deadly consequences.

"He died of induced radiated cancer, due to being exposed to toxic waste, and it is a heart-breaking, heartfelt emotion to go through," Frame said.

She blames a lack of state and federal regulation on toxic materials, and it's something she feels is still a huge problem: a lack of oversight which could have contributed to last week's chemical spill and resulting water crisis.

So, for 15 years, she's been hoping to get the attention of Erin Brockovich, to push for stricter rules on inspecting all facilities with toxic chemicals.

Brockovich agreed more regulations are needed for the chemical industry, and she insists criminal charges should be filed to hold Freedom Industries responsible for what happened.

"This is a company with lack of safety, who's completely negligent, damaged the environmental, jeopardized public health and safety, harmed people and jeopardized businesses, I think that's criminal," Brockovich said.

Those gathered for her town hall Monday night just hope Brockovich will help get results to make sure a spill and water crisis like this never happens again.

"It frustrates me, just like it does all of you." Brockovich said. "I don't think it's a picture we pay enough attention to. All of us are screwed without water. I think this community's showing us what happens when you don't have water, and it's frightening."

Brockovich insists she's not being paid a dime to be here in West Virginia, and only came here because of the community's concern through more than a half-million requests for her to investigate what's happened. But she isn't ruling out the possibility of getting involved in some of the lawsuits here and legislative efforts to prevent another spill.

You can also see Eyewitness News anchor Kera Mashek’s full interview with Brokovich here.



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