With Toxic Plume on the Move, PG&E Offers to Buy Homes in Town of Hinkley

With a plume of contaminated ground water oozing towards residents of Hinkley, Calif., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is offering to buy up to 100 houses that could be under threat.

The plume, which is 2 1/2 miles long and 1 mile wide, is laced with hexavalent chromium, a toxic metal that can cause breathing problems and cancer. Any house above the plume, or any site that could be used for agriculture pumping or could spread the plume in other ways, is included in the offer, the San Bernardino Sun reports.

PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said the company has been busy in recent days contacting the affected residents and handing out bottles of water in Hinkley, a small desert farming community near Barstow, Calif. “We tried to personally deliver it to as many people as we could, but we also mailed it,” he said.

PG&E dealings with Hinkley are well documented; the utility company paid $333 million to settle lawsuits by hundreds of residents claiming health damage from chromium-laced wastewater seeping from the utility’s disposal ponds into town drinking water wells. The case was made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich.”

As part of that settlement, PG&E was charged with cleaning up the polluted ground water. The company was issued an abatement order by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2008, when it was learned the plume was expanding. That was followed by further warnings of the plume’s expansion in March.

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