Friday 23 March 2018

Brockovich back for sequel as town under threat

Erin Brockovich is out to fight for underdog once more
Erin Brockovich is out to fight for underdog once more

David Usborne in Los Angeles

THE film version ended well enough -- chased down by the unlikely crusader Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, the giant California power company PG&E settled with residents in the desert town of Hinkley over claims it had poisoned their water supply.

Regrettably, a sequel may now have to be ordered. Thirteen years after the company paid $333m (€244m) to settle the class-action suit against it spearheaded by Ms Brockovich, the silent scourge in the soil may be back.

A large plume of water laced with the offending hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, has been found spreading beyond an agreed containment boundary and towards residents' homes.

Among those voicing their concern is Ms Brockovich herself, who, since the settlement with 600 Hinkley residents and the box-office success of the 2000 Oscar-winning film, has run a legal and consulting business assisting in similar kinds of David-and-Goliath suits all over the country.

"Once again, this is a community of sitting ducks," she said. "l'll be out there soon to help encourage people to get the word out, to start knocking on doors and examining water and soil test results. Then we'll decide how to proceed."

She added that the 1997 settlement meant PG&E should automatically be taking care of the plume.

"The plume is migrating, and this is a violation of the clean-up order," said Carmela Gonzalez, one of many residents who spoke up after state water regulators last week ordered PG&E to step up monitoring of groundwater quality. "It is outrageous that this has been allowed to continue. People are fed up."

The company is not denying the growth of the new plume, which is about two-and-a-half miles long and a mile wide, or its breach of the agreed containment limits, but is not conceding that higher-than-normal chromium levels in domestic wells are connected to it.

"These concentrations remain within the realms of naturally occurring concentrations," Robert Doss, the company's chief engineer said. (©Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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