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PG and E Contaminate Ground Water

     Growing up in a small town is a wonderful way to spend your childhood. You know all your neighbors and most everyone greets you with a smile as you go about your daily business. When tragedy and sorrow come to a small town like this the wounds are deeper than just those affected by the events, the whole community feels the suffering. The presence of hexavalent chromium in the ground water of the residence of Hinkley, California, and the steps they took to seek justice, have reached far beyond the small desert town to Hollywood and inspired the film Erin Brockovich staring Julia Roberts.

Erin Brockovich was the real life spunky legal clerk who investigated the many illnesses in the small town of Hinkley and successfully linked those illnesses to contamination caused by PG&E.; Pacific Gas & Electric or PG&E; was the owner and operator of a compressor station that helped provide natural gas transmission through local pipelines. The compression station requires large cooling towers to maintain safe heat levels in the compressors. Hexavalent Chromium was added to the water in the metal machinery to prevent rust. When the water was not being used by the cooling towers it was stored in unlined ponds next to the plant. During storage dangerous level of this contaminated water seeped out of the ponds and down into the towns groundwater source.

The plant used hexavalent chromium from 1952 to 1966. When the company began using the substance they alerted the people of Hinkley but assured them that the chemical was not dangerous. One account shows people from the plant telling residents of the town that chromium could be found in multivitamins and so it was entirely safe. While this statement is not untrue, trivalent chromium is naturally found in some vegetables and often used in vitamins; the plant was not using that type of chromium. They were using the often toxic hexavalent chromium. The negative effects of hexavalent chromium vary depending on your level of exposure and the way in which you are exposed. The lining of your respiratory system including your throat, nasal passages and lungs can become irritated and damaged if you inhale fumes produced by this carcinogen. Residents of Hinkley who swallowed the Hexavalent chromium in what they thought was safe drinking water showed signs of liver and kidney damage as well as gastrointestinal problems.

In a legal battle PG&E; was proven to know of the dangers of Hexavalent Chromium and still continued to use it in their tanks and allow it to make its way into the town's water. The first 40 people in Hinkley to go up against the large gas company were awarded 110 million dollars. After recieveing that verdict Pacific Gas and Electric agreed in 1996 to the largest settlement in US history for a direct-action suit. The company paid the remaining effected residents a total of 333 million dollars. Ten years later, PG&E; paid another 295 million dollars to people across California to settle cases involving their use of Hexavalent chromium.

California's Environmental Protection Agency is still monitoring the cleanup at the Hinkley contamination site.

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Posted on 2012-09-10, By: *

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