Green Light for Lawsuit on Cancer Agent in Vacaville Water

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge on Friday advanced a lawsuit against a Northern California city accused of knowingly delivering drinking water contaminated with a carcinogen highlighted in the film “Erin Brockovich.”

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller denied the city of Vacaville’s motion to dismiss an action filed in March by the environmental group California River Watch. The environmentalists want the city to be fined for each day it’s violated the federal Resource Conversation and Recovery Act by delivering chromium 6 through its water system to residential taps.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of recent tests revealing that high levels of chromium 6, which occurs naturally in rocks and soil and is used to make stainless steel and plastics, were found in five of the city’s 11 groundwater wells. River Watch claims the contaminated water sold to Vacaville’s 92,000 residents poses “an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health.”

The environmental group is represented by Jack Silver of Sebastopol.

Vacaville, located 55 miles northeast of San Francisco, argued the lawsuit should be tossed because the plaintiff failed to show a violation of the recovery act. It said that plaintiff’s claims are already regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Mueller, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 and the first female judge to serve in California’s Eastern District, called the city’s motion “unavailing” and dismissed it in seven pages. She noted several other courts have recognized that chromium 6 waste is regulated by the recovery act.

“Defendant has not challenged plaintiff’s allegation of harm so the court declines to address this issue,” Mueller said. She added that River Watch properly stated its recovery act claim and gave the city 14 days to answer the order.

The city declined to comment on Mueller’s order.

Vacaville public information officer Mark Mazzaferro told Courthouse News in March that the city is dedicating millions toward improving its wells and lowering the levels of the carcinogen. He reiterated that the city is on track to meeting new state drinking-water guidelines for chromium 6 that go into effect in 2020.

Residents of the Los Angeles suburb of Paramount sued seven metal-finishing factories in March, claiming they are polluting the city with chromium 6. The plaintiffs in the class action hired the environmental law firm Girardi Keese, which defended the chromium contamination case made famous by “Erin Brockovich.”


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