CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "I'm not comfortable having a film made about me and riding off into the sunset because Julia Roberts played me," said Erin Brockovich in Charlotte Tuesday afternoon. "I'm only comfortable being me."
That's how this almost 58-year-old started her speech at the Westin to 500 people, mostly women. Brockovich was brought to Charlotte by Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Charlotte, a mostly-women's business networking group. She said the movie was accurate in how she didn't always conform to a box and she personally took water samples, researched paperwork and talked to people who felt powerless.
But most of her speech Tuesday was how that research is what she's still doing. Just now, with technology, she's talking to people in cities all across America, often online.
"The community starts coming to me. Saying, 'Is this why my son has testicular cancer?' 'Is this why my daughter died of kidney cancer?' 'Is this why I have thyroid cancer?'" Brockovich said to WBTV's Molly Grantham, in a sit down one-on-one interview. "I don't have a problem saying I'm not a doctor or lawyer or scientist, and I never pretended to be, so I don't fully know. But I am trying to say that if we have all these people reporting potential problems in certain areas, I think we should look at it."
Brockovich's website is a place where anyone can report what their gut screams might be environmentally wrong, even if scientists and companies say, "It's fine" even if it's brown water or odd pollutants. Maybe, she said, it's constant cases of rare cancer popping up in one place.
She and her team puts all that data on a map.
What she has found in the past year or so is that often times the same cities reporting lots of environmental issues, are the same cities with lots of disease.
"The door is open for anyone to step forward," Erin said. "I truly believe you're never going to find the cure or the solution if you don't know the cause."
In recent years, multiple cases of ocular melanoma have popped up in Huntersville. Brockovich says multiple people have reported these cases to her site. She was aware of Huntersville when asked, and said she's currently in talks with people in our area to get involved and come visit. She said her goal would be to ultimately try and teach those reaching out to her, how to research answers themselves.
"I want us to take responsibility. Not wait for an agency to take responsibility or a doctor or research group to come in because they're probably not going to. If you're going to sit and wait for the federal government or the state agencies, I'm sorry I mean no disrespect – I don't – but you're going to be waiting a really long time," she said.
She says she has also looked into Duke Energy's issues with coal ash ponds, specifically with the concerns too much of the chemical Hexavalent Chromium leaking into ponds. Hexavalent chromium is what Brockovich found in the water in the town of Hinkley, California, in the movie Erin Brockovich. That resulted in the largest direct action lawsuit in US history.
Brockovich's main point is just for people to take control of their own gut feelings and common sense, not to wait for someone to come tell you what's wrong and how to fix it. She says she can tell a real difference in the past year.
"This is a watershed moment," she said. "People are rising again. It's a really good thing."