Erin Brockovich Town Faces Unfortunate Real-Life Sequel

Thursday, November 18, 2010
The town of Hinkley, California, is reliving a nightmare it thought had ended a decade ago. Made famous by Erin Brockovich’s battle against Pacific Gas & Electric and the subsequent film starring Julia Roberts, Hinkley residents are again facing a water supply tainted by the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium.
The problem stems from the contamination that prompted the 1990s legal battle, only now the toxic plume is reaching an underground aquifer previously thought to be protected.
Leakage from PG&E’s disposal ponds in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in residents developing stomach tumors and other health problems. The utility company agreed in 1997 to a $333 million settlement to the town’s 660 residents.
People thought the worst was over, until scientists discovered the chromium had begun seeping through a layer of clay protecting a lower aquifer.
The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is investigating PG&E’s handling and reporting of the migrating plume. “We definitely know there are violations, and that what PG&E is doing right now to contain the plume is not enough,” Lauri Kemper, assistant executive officer for the water board, told the Los Angeles Times.
Kemper said the board could impose fines of up to $5,000 for each day the plume poses a threat to the underground water supply.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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