Erin Brockovich, call your office: PG&E still at it 15 years later


The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Nov. 20 that corporate serial killer Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), whose poisoning of groundwater in the farming community of Hinkley, Calif. (some 100 miles northeast of L.A.) and subsequent effort to cover it up was the basis for the hit anti-corporate film Erin Brockovich, is downplaying evidence that the problem has moved beyond the affected area in the original lawsuits that Brockovich and her firm brought on behalf of the town's cancer-ridden residents.


Brockovich, who at the time was an untrained legal clerk, discovered and pursued evidence that PG&E knew for 30 years that a toxic metal called hexavalent chromium (also known as chromium-6) from one of its plants had been seeping into the town's water sources, leading to the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million for more than 600 Hinkley residents.


According to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), a September 2010 draft toxicological review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that hexavalent chromium in tap water is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”


PG&E is now offering to buy people's property outside the original area of the legal settlement, while denying that the chromium-6 is a threat to the surrounding community. It is also supplying bottled drinking water to some Hinkley residents at the request of the local water board, the Chronicle reported, noting that the board issued a clean up and abatement order to PG&E in 2008, but the problem has instead gotten worse.


Of course, $333 million is just a rounding error for PG&E, so it's unlikely the cancers and deaths in Hinkley will end any time soon. And besides, PG&E's attention is currently focused on more direct and immediate ways to kill people, such as gross negligence in building and maintaining its gas lines, causing them to rupture and explode into giant fireballs.


UPDATE: In December 2010, the EWG published a report that it had found chromium-6 in public drinking water in 31 out of 35 American cities, and in 25 of them at levels exceeding the maximum standard proposed by California in response to the Brockovich case. According to the EWG report, "At least 74 million Americans in 42 states drink chromium-polluted tap water, much of it likely in the cancer-causing hexavalent form."