November 09, 2010 5:35 PM
KAREN JONAS, Staff Writer

HINKLEY • Ten years after the film “Erin Brockovich” put the spotlight on tainted groundwater supplies in this desert town, contaminated water continues to spread.

Samples taken in August in Hinkley show the plume of water contaminated with chromium 6, a cancer-causing chemical, has started to migrate into the lower aquifer. Previous reports showed there was a significant concentration of chromium 6 only in the upper aquifer, but samples taken in August show that the lower aquifer near the northwest edge of the plume has also experienced chromium 6 contamination.

“I really feel there should be monetary damage inflicted upon (Pacific Gas and Electric) for not getting this cleaned up,” said John Runkle, a resident of Hinkley. “Why is the plume migrating after such a long time?”

Pacific Gas and Electric used chromium 6 to prevent rust in cooling tower water for its compressor station between 1952 and 1966. The wastewater was discharged into unlined ponds at the site and some of it eventually seeped into the groundwater in Hinkley, contaminating an area about two miles long and nearly a mile wide, according to information by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Board.

The chromium 6 contamination in Hinkley was first exposed by Erin Brockovich, a paralegal for a Southern California law firm, which was subsequently used as the source for Oscar-winning movie.

Chromium 6 can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and hemorrhage when ingested in large amounts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Chronic exposure by ingestion can effect the immune system, liver, and kidneys.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is going to require PG&E to conduct further testing of the groundwater in Hinkley in order to determine how far the plume has spread into the lower aquifer.

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