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Hinkley CA - Ground Water Contamination & The Erin Brockovich Story

I have had a lot of potential buyers ask me "why are houses so cheap in Hinkley California"? Well, there is a very good reason. Hinkley California was at the epicenter of an environmental disaster that has left a lasting effect. The story became increasingly well know after the famous Hollywood drama of then, legal clerk Erin Brockovich portrayed by actress Julia Roberts.

From 1952 to 1966, PG&E dumped about 370 million gallons of Chromium-tainted wastewater into unlined wastewater spreading ponds around the town of Hinkley California, located in the Mojave Desert about 120 miles north-northeast of Los Angeles. At the time PG&E used chromium 6, or hexavalent chromium as a cheap and efficient rust suppressor, in its compressor station for natural-gas transmission pipelines. Hexavalent-chromium compounds have been found to be genotoxic carcinogens. Some of the wastewater percolated to the groundwater, resulting in hexavalent chromium pollution. The chromium affects an area of groundwater at least eight miles long and two miles wide. 

Erin Brockovich

In 1993, legal clerk Erin Brockovich began an investigation into the health impacts of the contamination. A class-action lawsuit about the contamination was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement of a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history. In 2008, PG&E settled the last of the cases involved with the Hinkley claims. Since then, the town's population has dwindled to the point that in 2016 The New York Times described Hinkley as having slowly become a ghost town.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich discusses Hinkley’s Chromium 6 water contamination issues during a sit-down interview at the Law office of Masry & Vititoe in Westlake Village, Calif. on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Impact to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG & E)

PG&E is under orders from the Lahontan Water Board to stop plume expansion and clean up the chromium plume. Monthly monitoring reports by PG&E demonstrate that the chromium plume is currently being contained south of Thompson Road.

PG&E has posted on their public website that they remain committed to protecting public health and safety while remediating the environment and responding to community concerns at the Hinkley Compressor Station. Through 2017, PG&E estimates that approximately 50 percent of the chromium present in the groundwater has been remediated. You can see more information from PG&E by navigating to the link below.

Historic Impacts - PG&E Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report 2018 (

What is hexavalent chromium and why is there a public health concern?

Chromium is a heavy metal that occurs throughout the environment. The trivalent form is a required nutrient and has very low toxicity. The hexavalent form, also commonly known as “chromium 6,” is more toxic and has been known to cause cancer when inhaled. In recent scientific studies in laboratory animals, hexavalent chromium has also been linked to cancer when ingested. Where does hexavalent chromium come from? Much of the low-level hexavalent chromium found in drinking water is naturally occurring, reflecting its presence in geological formations throughout the state. However, there are areas of contamination in California from historic industrial use such as the manufacturing of textile dyes, wood preservation, leather tanning, and anti-corrosion coatings, where hexavalent chromium contaminated waste has migrated into the underlying groundwater. How is hexavalent chromium currently regulated in drinking water? Currently, hexavalent chromium in drinking water is regulated under the “total chromium” state MCL of 50 ppb, which is more restrictive than the 100-ppb federal MCL. The total chromium MCL was established in 1977 to address the noncancer toxic effects of hexavalent chromium, and also includes the less-toxic trivalent form.

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