U.S. Water News Online
HINKLEY, Calif. -- The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has
stopped irrigating with chromium 6-tainted groundwater after trace
amounts of the contaminant were detected in the air in the town made
famous by the movie ``Erin Brockovich,'' officials said.
``It's a precautionary move. Whether there is any risk associated
with it has to be the subject of additional tests,'' said William L.
Rukeyser, a spokesman for the California Environmental Protection
Agency. The California Air Resources Board and other agencies
recently detected trace amounts of the element near an alfalfa field
irrigated with polluted groundwater.
For the past eight years, PG&E has worked to decontaminate the
groundwater by spraying alfalfa fields with the tainted water. The
natural biological processes of the alfalfa transform the chromium 6
into chromium 3, an essential nutrient.
Jon Tremayne, a PG&E spokesman, said the levels of chromium 6
that were detected were ``extremely low.''
``The levels found in the sampling are equal to the background
levels of chromium 6 that would be found anywhere in California,'' he
In fact, Tremayne added, the levels detected in the area have not
changed during the eight years the remediation program has been in
use. Nonetheless, PG&E halted irrigating the circular field after
the local water quality control board said it had detected the
``We will work with both the Air Resources Board and the local
water board to identify the best next step, whether it's continuing
with the remediation plan that began eight years ago or if it's
something different,'' Tremayne said. ``Our goal is to get this
cleaned up in a timely fashion.''
Hinkley rose to prominence thanks to ``Erin Brockovich,'' which
was based on a 1996 case in which residents of the California desert
town won a $333 million settlement from PG&E after the utility
company's tanks leaked high concentrations of chromium 6 into the
Julia Roberts won an Oscar for her portrayal of a law firm
assistant whose curiosity about illnesses in Hinkley led to the
PG&E 's remediation plan, which included irrigating with
contaminated water, has reduced the level of chromium 6 in the town's
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