The Real Erin Brockovich Crusades Against Bottled Water


TORONTO – Erin Brockovich -- the real one, not the movie version that earned Julia Roberts an Oscar -- wants consumers to put down the bottle and turn on the tap.

"Bottled water is expensive," Brockovich told The Price of Fame at the Toronto International Film Festival. "[People] can save money by not buying as much bottled water and maybe investing in a good filter for the house." (Brockovich is still looking for a filter to endorse.)

Americans spend an average of $100 a year per person on bottled water, according to published figures. That means the average family of four is shelling out $400 for a drink that is less regulated and no safer than what flows out of the faucet for less than a penny a gallon, spouts the festival documentary Last Call at the Oasis, in which Brockovich appears. And get this: 45% of bottled water is tap water, director Jessica Yu's film asserts.

That's just the tip of the melting iceberg for our water woes. The liquid that covers 70% of our planet is getting contaminated in all sorts of ways, the film points out. We shouldn't expect the desalination of seawater to slake humanity's collective thirst, either. It's costly and presents its own ecological challenges.

But for the majority of us Westerners living in municipalities, the water in the system is relatively safe, Brockovich said. (Much of her crusading is aimed at warning people about the dangers of contaminated well water.) Bottled water in general is not a healthier alternative to the kitchen spigot. So turn on the faucet and turn off the fancy commercials trying to win you with mountain-spring Madison Avenue manure.

Water bottlers make between $50 billion and $100 billion a year, and their profits are climbing 7% annually, according to reports. Bottled water now costs an average of $3 a gallon, and we don't even have to rely on OPEC to keep it flowing. And as bad as the money we waste, we're also guzzling the stuff at a rate that is choking landfills with 2 million tons of plastic a year, according to

Granted, discussing the evils of bottled water at a celebrity-packed film festival is like railing against hot dogs at a baseball game. But Brockovich, the still-brassy 51-year-old blonde, is ready to talk up her cause anywhere. She's been on H2O watch ever since she started calling out power company PG&E for its water-poisoning ways in a 1993 lawsuit on behalf of the cancer-stricken citizens of Hinkley, Calif. The $333 million settlement in 1996 set a record at the time, and the case inspired the hit 2000 drama Erin Brockovich, turning the real-life heroine into a household name. "Celebrity clout can keep people informed," Brockovich said.

The activist reassured us that there are times when drinking bottled water is OK: On a long plane flight, during a disaster where the public supply is compromised, or when you're in a region where other potable resources aren't available.

But overall, cutting back on bottled water is a smart move -- for your budget and for the community as a whole.

"If we're not careful here, all water is going to be privatized, and it's going to be a commodity," Brockovich said. "And it's going to be traded. What we'll be facing is that those without money won't get water. It's a human right to drink water."