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The Hinkley Story

Pacific Gas & Electric operates a gas compressor station in Hinkley,


California, located along a natural gas pipeline that runs through the
Mojave Desert. The pipeline is part of a nationwide network that
distributes gas throughout the United States and Canada.
The purpose of the Hinkley Compressor Station is best described by
PG&E in the flyer it gave to neighbors of the plant.
The Hinkley Compressor Station was built in 1952 as part of the
pipeline system that brings southwest natural gas to PG&E's service
area. These PG&E gas lines serve Barstow and the surrounding area
by delivering gas to Southwest Gas Company. The Station
compresses one third of the natural gas required by PG&E's
customers in northern and central California.
The purpose of the Compressor is to boost pressure and to send the
natural gas northward. As part of the plant's operation, heat is
generated during the gas compression process, and the heat is
removed with cooling water. The water, in turn, is cooled by the
passage through cooling towers."
On December 7, 1987, officials from PG&E advised the State of
California that they had detected levels of hexavalent
chromium (chromium-6) in a groundwater monitoring well north of
the compressor station's waste water ponds. The levels were ten
times greater than the maximum amount allowed by law. Known as
a carcinogen since the 1920s, chromium-6, if inhaled, is associated
with lung cancer. In drinking water, it can cause an increase in
stomach tumors.
Hinkley residents became concerned that they might be dealing with
a cancer cluster possibly linked to the chromium-6 contamination.
Among the health complaints were breast cancer, Hodgkin
lymphoma, and lung cancer.
On April 25, 1988, PG&E met with the residents of Hinkley and told
them that there was "no risk at current levels" and "generally, site
groundwater is good and suitable for drinking and agriculture."
(Plaintiffs' Trial Brief)
By the early 1990's, PG&E was accused of knowingly contaminating
the groundwater with chromium-6. Seventy-seven initial plaintiffs
filed a lawsuit against PG&E in 1993. Eventually 648 plaintiffs joined
the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs demanded a settlement of $250 million. While
PG&E acknowledged that chromium-6 had contaminated the
property around the compressor station, they did not believe that
the contamination had caused actual harm.
The California Cancer Registry completed a Community Cancer
Assessment of the Hinkley area during that time, and concluded
that no significantly elevated rates of cancer were found in the
population. However, state officials have noted that the population
is too small for a cancer survey to yield meaningful results. Two
studies have been completed since. All three studies have yielded
similar results.
The arbitration trial took nearly two years, where 36 claims were
tried. The plaintiffs' lawyers had to:
Prove medical causation
Deal with missing evidence that had been lost or destroyed
Reconstruct a complex hydro-geological water system
Prove the extent of PG&E's inappropriate conduct
At the end of the arbitration trial, the plaintiffs reached a global
settlement with PG&E which:
Compensated all the named plaintiffs in the amount of $333
million
Required PG&E to clean up the environment
Required PG&E to stop using chromium-6.
The case has become a landmark for other plaintiffs whose
"preconception" injuries would previously have been completely
disregarded.
In 2000, a second lawsuit was filed against PG&E, alleging that the
company knowingly supplied contaminated water to the all-
volunteer Hinkley Fire Department.
Today, Hinkley residents are concerned once again about
groundwater contamination caused by PG&E. The plume is now
beginning to spread. In November 2010, PG&E sent a letter to
Hinkley residents offering to expand their property purchase
program, and providing bottled water to residents. Erin Brockovich
has returned to Hinkley to fight PG&E over clean-up of the spread.
Source: Bos, C. D. (2007). "Erin Brockovich" (Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric). Retrieved April 11,
2011, from Lawbuzz website: http://www.lawbuzz.com/famous_trials/erin_brockovich/
erin_brockovich_ch1.htm










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