Remember that sassy lawyer chick from the '80s with white-collar cleavage and a good head on her shoulders, to boot?

Neither do we. But we do remember the Julia Roberts version — and, if we recall correctly, after a heartening montage of interviews with little cancer children, Erin Brockovich succeeded in whipping Pacific Gas & Electric into shape. The company was forced to pay millions of dollars in medical bills to residents living near their factories, which had leaked the carcinogen chromium-6 into their drinking water. Big corporation foiled, little children happy. Roll credits.

Today, Brockovich's story gets a crap sequel. A new study by the Environmental Working Group shows that drinking water in many cities across the U.S., including Riverside…

… still contains dangerously high levels of chromium-6. Riverside was third in the nation, behind cities from Oklahoma and Hawaii, with levels at 1.69 — over 1,000 times higher than California's government-set goal of 0.06 “parts per billion.”

Funny thing about those goals: They don't really do much without enforcement. (Which is precisely why you should have cared about Prop. 26.) And the federal government hasn't even gotten that far, according to the study:

Despite mounting evidence of the contaminant's toxic effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set a legal limit for chromium-6 in tap water and does not require water utilities to test for it. Hexavalent chromium is commonly discharged from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities. It can also pollute water through erosion of natural deposits.

Apparently, Brockovich is still very much alive and caring about this stuff. The Environmental Working Group called her for a reaction:

“It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23 years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm,” said Brockovich. “This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health risks that millions of Americans still face because of water contamination.”

Here are the levels throughout California. Go Reno!

Credit: Environmental Working Group

Credit: Environmental Working Group

What makes Riverside such a hotbed for the carcinogen? We're thinking a whoppin' nine steel mills might have something to do with it.

“It's likely a combo of both naturally occurring chemicals and local industry,” says the media guy at EWG. Study conductor Renee Sharp says she, too, would just be speculating: “That's a hard question to answer. If you just test for a chemical, it can't tell you where it's coming from. … But I can tell you that Riverside has had issues in the past with water contamination coming from industries.”

The California Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of dealing with messes like this one, could not be reached for comment. While we're waiting for a call back — any theories on why Riverside?

LA Weekly