Remember the “cancer cluster” that made Erin Brockovich famous? (And rich?)

Erin Brockovich became “America’s Sweetheart” because “she brought a corporation to its knees.” As the story goes, the energy company PG&E was storing chromium 6, a cancer agent, in its on-site ponds but it leached into the wells of the nearby tiny desert town of Hinkley, Calif., to sue. The suit blamed the chemical for dozens of symptoms, ranging from nosebleeds to breast cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, miscarriages and spinal deterioration. In 1996 PG&E settled the case for $333 million.

The problem, as I noted in my very first piece critical of Brockovich way back in 2000, is that “no one agent could possibly have caused more than a handful of the symptoms described. Chromium 6 in the water almost certainly didn’t cause any of them. The Environmental Protection Agency does consider chromium 6 a human carcinogen. But it’s linked only to cancer of the lung and of the septum. Further, as one might guess from these two cancers, it’s a carcinogen only when inhaled.”

Nevertheless, PG&E foolishly submitted to arbitration rather than going to court, Brockovich’s firm won a massive $333 million, of which Brockovich in her bonus alone received $2 million.

But were the people of Hinkley actually any more likely to have cancer than would be expected in a town that size of that demographic population?

In light of the trouble Brockovich is currently stirring up in Acreage, Florida, in which she’s rounding up plaintiffs for class action suits regarding an alleged childhood cancer cluster, I decided to check into the final verdict on cancer in Hinkley. Here’s what I found.

California’s “Desert Sierra Cancer Surveillance Program staff reviewed cancer cases that had been diagnosed among residents of the census tract where Hinkley is located.” Conclusion: “Our assessment did not identify any excess in the number of new cancer cases in Hinkley between 1988 and 1993 that is greater than the level anticipated for sampling error.” Moreover, “Recently, we extended our assessment of cancer in the census tract encompassing Hinkley through 1998.” Conclusion: the did “not identify an excess in the number of new cancer cases in the area assessed.”

Conclusion: Brockovich’s original claim to fame was built on a fabrication. And it still is.

I’ve got a list on my Web site of more of my extensive writings on this wicked fraud of a woman. Two of the greatest compliments I’ve received: When Gen. David Petraeus said of my “The New Band of Brothers” article from Iraq: “Great stuff with a great unit in a very tough neighborhood!” and when Australia’s “60 Minutes” asked Brockovich about me and she screeched: “I hate him!”