HINKLEY Investigators working with Erin Brockovich on the chromium 6 contamination in Hinkley began testing private wells on Friday in order to find out if residents living outside the contaminated plume of water also have chromium 6 in their wells.

The team tested 25 wells on Friday and would have another 25 wells tested on Sunday, said Bob Bowcock, Brockovich's environmental consultant, on Friday afternoon. He said the testing was going well, although there were some problems with frozen wells after cold temperatures overnight. Bowcock said there could be a delay with receiving the test results because a number of other cities and communities have also been testing for chromium 6 after a study released by Environmental Working Group last month found chromium 6 in the water in 31 out of 35 cities in the United States.

About 150 residents met with Brockovich and her environmental consultant on Wednesday in Hinkley Fire Hall in order to sign up to have their wells tested for chromium 6 and find out if there would be litigation. Bowcock said that 47 residents had already signed up to have their wells tested prior to Wednesday's meeting.

"We need to find out what people are drinking," said Bowcock.

A representative from law firm Girardi and Keese was also in attendance Wednesday to answer legal questions for residents. Bowcock said the firm might have to file for litigation against Pacific Gas And Electric and said residents would be able to meet privately with a lawyer in order to discuss their options.

"What we've found has led us to believe there's something very seriously wrong here," said Bowcock.

A few residents at the meeting were enthusiastic about the idea of litigation.

"Yay, finally somebody's able to help us!" exclaimed one resident.

Brockovich did not speak publicly at the meeting, but met privately with residents who wanted to discuss their concerns.

Some residents at the meeting were concerned that they had not received notification from PG&E about well test results that had been done in December. When Bowcock asked how many residents in the room were still waiting for test results, about 15 people raised their hands.

Jeff Smith, spokesman for PG&E, said the company tries to get test results to residents as quickly as possible, but has to have quality-controlled tests, which he said takes longer. He also said that the company has to submit all tests to the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control board before the information is released to residents.

Another issue that residents brought up were the property appraisals that PG&E began in December. Most residents have not received results of the appraisals and say that their calls to both PG&E and the appraiser go unanswered.

Amber Baca, a resident of Hinkley, said she has tried numerous times to get in touch with PG&E and with the appraiser who came out to her property on Jan. 9, but she has not been able to find out the results of her appraisal yet.

Smith said the company was working to get the results of the appraisals out to residents as quickly as possible.

The chromium 6 contamination began in Hinkley after PG&E began using chromium 6 in cooling tower water for its compression tower in Hinkley in the 1950s through the 1960s. The contaminated water was dumped into unlined ponds at the site, where it slowly began leaking into groundwater. The Lahontan water board has ordered PG&E to stop the spread of the plume and clean up the contamination, which is now about two miles long and nearly a mile wide.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4122 or kjonas@desertdispatch.com

Public meetings about chromium 6 contamination in Hinkley
Who: The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board
What: Results of fall testing, environmental impact report update, summary of feasibility study comments
When: Wed. Jan. 26 and Thu. Jan. 27 from 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Where: Hinkley Elementary School, 37600 Hinkley Road, Hinkley