Credit: CBS

Most Americans probably know Erin Brockovich from the eponymous 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts. The real-life Brockovich, however, has remained a notable environmental activist in the years since the big-budget film of her life. On Thursday night’s episode of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert turned to Brockovich to explain the biggest environmental issue in America right now: the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

After Colbert showed photographs of the discolored water coming out of Flint pipes in loccations ranging from fire hydrants to hospitals, Brockovich explained how the problem came about for anyone who’s missed it.

“The city was having some obvious financial issues, so they hired an emergency city manager, and they made a decision to switch the city water supply,” Brockovich said. “Everybody’s water quallity is different, so you can’t just willy-nilly switch water systems. So they switched from the Detroit water, which is from Lake Huron, to the Flint River water, which is very corrosive. What happened was, when it hit the system, it caused all the lead, the iron, the maganese, and the copper to leach out from the pipes and all that lead was delivered to residents in their tap.”

Although the Flint story only recently broke on the national scale, Brockovich told Colbert she’s been involved for awhile now, since city residents contacted her more than a year ago.

“About a year ago they contacted me,” Brockovich said. “People were concerned about the changes in color of the water, they were concerned about the smell of the water. They became concerned about their families, so oftentimes when we get called we’ll send investigators out, which we did. And we even wrote a protocol for the city about how to treat the situation, so it didn’t have such a fallout, this time last year.”

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Brockovich doesn’t explain whether the city used her advice or not, though recent reporting has shown that officials mostly tried to deny the crisis even as they took precautions for themselves. Unfortunately, Brockovich does say that such water crises may not be limited to Flint alone.

“I can tell you for certain that this is a national crisis,” Brockovich said. “Ever since Flint has hit the naitonal stage, we’ve now found out that Sebring, Ohio, has the same problem, and they realized they’ve been delivering their customers lead. The same thing has just now been happening down in Louisiana, and we’re hearing rumors that they’re having the same situation in Wisconsin. Our infrastructure is very old, and it’s causing all the iron and lead and everything in these pipes to leach out, because it’s a cheaper way than doing what they should be doing, and it’s affecting many municipalities across the United States.”

Watch the clip below, and head here for more on how you can assist the residents of Flint.

Erin Brockovich
  • Movie
  • 126 minutes