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Groundwater Contamination with Chromium-6 in Hinkley, California

Residents of the town of Hinkley, California, alleged that PG&E knowingly dumped wastewater contaminated with chromium-6, a known carcinogen since 1925, into the region’s groundwater.


In 1952, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) installed a compressor station near the town of Hinkley in San Bernardino County, CA  part of a gas pipeline system linking Texas to California. Since then, the company has used a carcinogenic chemical compound named chromium-6 as a corrosion inhibitor in its cooling system. The contaminated water was discharged into unlined pools, thus leaking to the aquifer serving Hinkley’s residents water needs. The leakage occurred (at least) from 1952 to 1972, the year PG&E lined the discharging pools. However, it was not until 1977 that the California state passed a Law regulating the use of chromium-6 and limiting its concentration in water to 50 µg/L.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Groundwater Contamination with Chromium-6 in Hinkley, California
Country:United States of America
State or province: Hinkley, California
Location of conflict:Mojave Desert
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Water access rights and entitlements
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project details

-In July 2014 California became the first state to acknowledge that ingested chromium-6 is linked to cancer and as a result has established a maximum Chromium-6 contaminant level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion (ppb)

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Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:1987
Company names or state enterprises: Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR); California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA); California Department of Public Health; National Toxicology Program (NTP); California Cancer Registry.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Local residents of Hinkley
Supporters: The Law Offices of Masry and Vititoe
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
The town of Hinkley residents
Erin Brockovich
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of human health damage
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:Specific demands: Decontamination and monetary compensation to affected people.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The case settlement ended up in monetary compensation for the plaintiffs, but several people died before 1996 and many victims weren't included in the settlement. PG&E was unable to contain the plume of polluted water, forcing an exodus from the exposed areas. The area will be inhabitable until someone finally solves the problem. PG&E had to clean up the contaminated groundwater and stop using chromium-6. By 2013 PG&E had spent over $750 million on remediation. However, the town remained polluted and Hinkley is a ghost town now.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Environmental Justice Litigation in California: How Effective is Litigation in Addressing Slow Violence?
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The Town Erin Brockovich Rescued Is Basically a Ghost Town Now
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PG&E Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Lingering Hinkley Contamination
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Survey shows unremarkable cancer rate in CA town
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Cancer-cluster study seeking to debunk 'Erin Brockovich' has glaring weaknesses
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Story Behind Erin Brockovich
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Erin Brockovich
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Other comments:This particular case became very famous in 2000 when the movie "Erin Brockovich" with Julia Roberts was released.
Meta information
Contributor:ENVJustice Project
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3111
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