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The Infamous 'Erin Brockovich' Case over Polluted Groundwater in Hinkley

Erin Brockovich, famed environmental activist

A law clerk by the name of Erin Brockovich rose to fame over her efforts to uncover the reason why so many Hinkley residents were getting sick (and has since gone on to work on other significant environmental and toxic tort cases, often with Girardi | Keese). Her efforts were portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich.

As Ms. Brockovich brought to light evidence that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. used toxic "chromium 6" and that it appeared to have been absorbed into groundwater after illegal dumping, the lawyers of Girardi | Keese stepped in to assist Ms. Brockovich and her law firm. In 1996, we helped obtain a $333 million settlement for the residents of Hinkley (and later a second $300 million settlement for additional Hinkley residents with the same personal injury claims).

Hexavalent chromium (a.k.a. chromium 6)

According to the Lahontan Water Board (which still has a page up about the eight-mile-long, two-mile-wide "chromium plume"), Pacific Gas & Electric Company used the anti-corrosive chemical chromium 6 between 1952 and 1966. PG&E dumped wastewater that contained chromium 6 into nearby ponds. This in turn got into Hinkley residents' groundwater.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that "all hexavalent chromium compounds are considered carcinogenic" and can increase the risk of cancer. An EPA toxicological review that dates back to 1998 describes adverse reports of oral ulcers, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and leukocytosis (increased white blood cells signaling inflammation or infection), among other illness.

The 'ghost town' of Hinkley, Calif.

In the Erin Brockovich case, members of the Hinkley community were seriously sickened with diseases like cancer, and today Hinkley remains a "ghost town." A Los Angeles Times report paraphrases a Hinkley resident, who said, "Nearly two decades after the town settled with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over contaminated groundwater, few residents remain."

The Erin Brockovich case shows why toxic torts law is vitally necessary to protecting people, protecting the environment, and holding companies accountable for pollution.

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