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
NameGroundwater Contamination with Chromium-6 in Hinkley, California
CountryUnited States of America
Province Hinkley, California
SiteMojave Desert
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Oil and gas exploration and extraction
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 CommoditiesWater
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)

-Hexavalent chromium was an additive that prevented rust in the gas cooling towers, and it was disposed of in nearby pools. Under ideal circumstances, the dangerous heavy metals would be filtered out and reclaimed.
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date1987
Company Names or State Enterprises Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) from United States of America
Relevant government actorsAgency 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 organisations and other supportersLocal residents of Hinkley

Supporters: The Law Offices of Masry and Vititoe
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingNeighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
The town of Hinkley residents
Erin Brockovich
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-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-economic 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
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Project cancelled
Development of AlternativesSpecific demands: Decontamination and monetary compensation to affected people.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

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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Story Behind Erin Brockovich
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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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Media Links

Erin Brockovich
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Other Documents

Protesters in Hinkley
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Hinkley, California Source: Mike Pearl
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Other CommentsThis particular case became very famous in 2000 when the movie "Erin Brockovich" with Julia Roberts was released.
Meta Information
ContributorENVJustice Project
Last update09/04/2018