LOS ANGELES (CN) -People outside Hinkley, Calif. say Pacific Gas & Electric dumped millions of gallons of toxic chromium VI into their groundwater – a claim made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.” PG&E settled earlier suits from Hinkley residents for a reported $758 million, but these 15 news plaintiffs say PG&E covered up the magnitude of the spill, claiming that contaminated water in outlying areas was unsafe to drink, but was harmless for bathing and irrigation.
Lead plaintiff Theodore Schroeder says PG&E circulated an inaccurate map of the contamination, claiming that only 260 acres of groundwater was poisoned. Schroeder claims that PG&E knew that its self-defined contamination plume was far larger than it admitted.
In 1987, PG&E held a meeting with residents in areas near Hinkley. At the meeting, the plaintiffs say PG&E announced that residents would have to live inside the plume for decades before suffering any health defects.
According to the lawsuit, PG&E tried to get rid of contaminated water by dumping it into huge, unlined leaching pits in Hinkley. PG&E allegedly hooked up sprinklers to the pits that sprayed poisonous water into the air, speeding evaporation. The plaintiffs say PG&E poisoned their desert communities and even told the Hinkley Volunteer Fire Department to use water from leaching pits to fill the plaintiffs’ backyard pools and irrigate their dairy ranches, agricultural fields and public parks.
PG&E allegedly used the chromium VI to control corrosion in its gas pipelines.
Chromium VI is different from chromium, the essential trace element. Chromium VI is tasteless and odorless, but one half teaspoon can be lethal, the plaintiffs say. Ingestion causes birth defects, skin lesions, damage to the kidneys, liver and urinary tract, lung cancer, immune deficiency and death, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are represented in Superior Court by Stephen Wainer.