The "Erin Brockovich Effect": How Media Shapes Toxics Policy

April 1, 2003Article
U.C. Davis, Environs, Environmental Law & Policy Journal

Looking back on this past century, several events stand out as pivotal turning points in environmental toxics policy. These events helped shape the evolving realm of toxics policy and guided the direction that it would take in the future. Undoubtedly included among these policyshaping events are Rachel Carson's 1962 publication of Silent Spring and the 1978 events at Love Canal.' Silent Spring helped launch the environmental movement and spurred a nation to question its role in altering the environment through chemical means. The toxic catastrophe of Love Canal gripped the nation, as it became the first man-made disaster to be designated as a federal emergency.3

Few would question the importance of these two events in the timeline of the environmental movement. However, why did these events have a profound and lasting impact on toxics policy? Silent Spring and Love Canal became pivotal in shaping toxics policy because each environmental event had both a real-world impact and mass media appeal. The media attention garnered by each of these events led to national awareness and concern for the toxics issue involved. Consequently, policy makers developed environmental toxics policies to respond to the public's heightened concern.