BARSTOW • Almost two decades after Erin Brockovich settled a case with Hinkley residents regarding contamination left by Pacific Gas and Electric, the activist returned to hear residents concerns regarding the migration of the contaminated plume and discussed options with them on Wednesday night in Barstow.
Brockovich and her chief environmental investigator, Bob Bowcock, met with Hinkley residents and promised they would test wells free of charge for residents who lived in the vicinity of the plume. She said she wanted to know the entire extent of the plume of contaminated water and will provide the results to officials at the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Lauri Kemper, assistant executive officer for Lahontan, said the agency was willing to work with Brockovich with the results of any well testing that would be performed in Hinkley.
Brockovich said she never expected to be back at Hinkley again and thought the contamination would have been cleaned up by PG&E due to orders from the water board.
"We've all been under the assumption that this was being cleaned up," said Brockovich.
The chromium 6 contamination began in Hinkley after PG&E used the chemical to prevent rusting in cooling water in a compression tower in the 1950's and 1960's. The utility discharged the chemical into unlined ponds at the site, where it slowly seeped into the groundwater. PG&E has been ordered by Lahontan to clean up the site.
Another issue that Brockovich said she would be looking into was a background study released in 2008 that determined Hinkley had naturally occurring chromium 6 at a maximum background level of 3.1 parts per billion. She said she wanted her experts to look into the study and determine if it was done correctly, because she believes that any chromium 6 in the area was there due to PG&E's actions.
Kemper said Thursday that Brockovich had already raised her concern about the background study and that the water board was going to provide information to Brockovich's experts so they could look at the study.
Residents said they thought the background study was incorrect, because they had minimal levels of chromium 6 in their wells years ago and now have been experiencing rising levels of chromium 6 in their wells.
Hinkley resident Shirley Archer lives on Summerset Road and said she had levels of about 0.3 parts per billion of chromium 6 in her well in 2006. A test done in November showed she has 3.9 parts per billion of chromium 6 in her well.
Several Hinkley residents spoke out at the meeting about letters from PG&E offering to appraise their homes. Many residents said they had had their homes appraised and have not been able to find out the results of the appraisal. Bowcock said he wanted to make sure that residents would be able to leave the area if they wanted to.
"Who wants to live on the edge of a ghost town?" asked Bowcock.
PG&E representative Jeff Smith said Thursday that the company was maintaining contact with Hinkley residents about the home appraisal and said residents were given contact information for the appraisers.
One Hinkley resident said he was concerned about his neighbors in Hinkley and hoped the community would stick together.
"These are all friends of ours," said Jim Dodd, who lives on Mountain View Road. "We care about each other."
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