On a recent assignment for The Christian Science Monitor, I visited the Mojave Desert community of Hinkley, made famous by the 2000 movie, “Erin Brockovich,” where groundwater contamination from the dumping of chromium-6 by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) over the years resulted in a record $333 million settlement with residents in 1996. The industrial chemical has been found in groundwater far beyond the original plume PG&E was ordered to clean up and contain as part of the settlement and the damage appears to be spreading by the day.
The area now is a checkerboard of small dairies pockmarked with abandoned homes and farms. In 2003 Carmela Gonzalez (above left), who is spearheading the current action against PG&E, built her dream home on 40 acres with a magnificent view of the Mojave region far to the north after receiving assurances that her water would remain untainted, is moving from the area. Roberta Walker, (right), the lead plaintiff in the original action against PG&E, used her portion of the settlement to purchase property high on a hill overlooking the valley, where she built homes for herselfand her daughter, now finds once again her well water is contaminated. Law clerk turned consumer advocate Brockovich is again involved in the matter, holding community meetings to gather support to go after PG&E once again.
The issue is not unlike the perchlorate contamination of the groundwater in the San Bernardino area from years of dumping byproduct chemicals from the manufacture of rocket fuel and the issue surrounding water quality for residents of Mira Loma near Stringfellow Acid Pits, where toxic waste dumped over the years has rendered the groundwater there unfit for human consumption.