Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/13/2011 03:14:36 PM PDT

HINKLEY – Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is forming a Community Advisory Committee related to its cleanup of groundwater contaminated with cancer-causing chromium 6.

The purpose is for Hinkley leaders and residents to advise, share concerns and give direct input to PG&E on its environmental and community programs in Hinkley, said Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman.

Up to six community members are being sought for the committee, with preference given to those who live, work or own property in Hinkley.

The application deadline is Tuesday, Smith said.

For decades, PG&E used chromium 6 to kill microbes and provide corrosion protection for its cooling tower at a natural gas pumping station in Hinkley.

As was common practice in the 1960s and 1970s – before the cancer risks of chromium 6 were recognized – water containing chromium 6 was drained from the cooling tower into unlined ponds, where it seeped into Hinkley’s groundwater.

Last month, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board asked its staff to prepare appropriate civil penalties against PG&E for its alleged failure to control the spread of a chromium 6 plume beyond boundaries established in 2008.

The pollution in Hinkley was elevated into an international story by the 2000 hit movie “Erin Brockovich,” which chronicled how the involvement of a Los Angeles law clerk in Hinkley’s water problems led to a $333million civil court settlement between residents and PG&E.

“We want to make sure we have a good, productive dialogue with the community,” Smith said of the new community advisory group effort.

He declined to speculate on the total size of the panel, saying only that it would be intimate.

“The (committee) will reflect the composition, diversity and interests of the local community,” said a flier announcing its formation.

A four-member panel will select people to join the committee, the announcement said.

The first meeting will be held later this spring and will be open to the public.

Members of the committee will also include representatives from PG&E, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Barstow school board.

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