Brockovich: I have not abandoned Fort Smith

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 280 views 

That didn't take long.

Less than 24 hours after The City Wire published an article questioning why colleagues of environmental activist Erin Brockovich had not returned phone calls from the media for more than two months and were not in touch with Fort Smith residents after telling those same residents that Brockovich "had their back" regarding an investigation into trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination by Whirlpool, Brockovich is defending herself.

In a phone call on Wednesday morning (June 19), Brockovich said her firm had not dropped the ball on the investigation and instead was working to get definitive data before speaking to the public.

"We certainly are in an ongoing investigation," she said. "We came to help the community. We don't have all the answers that the community wants. We wait for answers."

She recalled the last conversation that her colleague, Bob Bowcock, an environmental investigator, had with The City Wire approximately three weeks after the two held a March 26 town hall meeting with concerned residents and former Whirlpool employees.

"I do understand that Bob spoke to you and said our tests were inconclusive."

As reported yesterday, Bowcock told The City Wire that results were unavailable and to call back two weeks later. Those attempts and all others went unanswered until an e-mail was received on Monday from a Melissa Dutcher, who said Bowcock was too busy to respond to our more than 50 attempts to reach him over more than two months. It was at this time that the inconclusiveness of the tests was brought to the attention of The City Wire, just minutes before publication of yesterday's story was originally scheduled.

Brockovich said today that the reason the tests came back inconclusive was due to the testing wells being "dry."

"That always presents a situation and we are waiting for testing to come back from (the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality)."

Brockovich did not provide additional information on what independent tests her group would do or whether or not her group would simply depend on testing results from ADEQ during their investigation.

Katherine Benenati, public outreach and assistant division chief at ADEQ, said in an e-mail on Monday that her agency only had limited contact with anyone associated with Brockovich.

"The discussion dealt with where we were in the process of reviewing the risk assessment plan. I don’t have the name of the caller or an exact date."

Addressing concerns of residents who have told The City Wire of not hearing back from Brockovich and her colleagues, she said she was sorry for any missed communication to residents.

"I understand when people are not getting the information they need. Everyone, please excuse the expression, is balls to the wall. If anyone did not get a response, I am sorry about that. We are coming back and we are still investigating and we have no intention of abandoning the community."

During the phone call, she said she could assure that all residents would get a call or e-mail returned, saying she would personally see to it.

Brockovich also said members of the team investigating Whirlpool's contamination of the neighborhood north of the company's former manufacturing facility would be coming to Fort Smith next week to meet with residents and discuss the investigation.

"It will be the end of the week," she said. "We've been going back and forth. It's somewhere, either the 26th, 27th, 28th. (We're trying) to get everyone scheduled together and what would be most convenient."

She said it was possible she would be there, as well, though she said she cannot confirm her attendance due to a previously scheduled engagement for June 30 in New York.

"We are trying to get out there and get some of the answers for the community," Brockovich said. "We don't just want to jump out with wrong information. We are quiet sometimes just because we don't have anything. That is fair to the community because we don't want to add any further frustration."

"We are still here. We haven't left. We haven't left."

Erin Brockovich said she can be reached by residents at any time by e-mailing [email protected]