(ANDERSON v PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC)
Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D.
ONLINE AT: http://www.awesomestories.com/movies/erin_brockovich/erin_brockovich_ch1.htm PREFACE
Mr. Masry's office has done an incredible job.
I don't know where he got this stuff,
ferreting out information
for the past several months
that will make your hair stand up on edge.
January 4, 1994
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was in trouble. Serious trouble. Four decades after the world's largest utility started dumping 370 million gallons of cancer-causing chemicals into unlined ponds in Hinkley, California, the company's actions had finally been uncovered. Uncovered by Erin Brockovich (a formerly unemployed, single mother of three working in a California law firm) who wanted to know what medical records had to do with a real estate file. What she found out led to the biggest settlement on record for a civil class action lawsuit. CHAPTER 2
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IN THE MOJAVE
Many people and domestic animals in the high desert town of Hinkley, California were getting sick. Some had died. Since residents depended on the local groundwater supply for all their needs, were the illnesses somehow related to PG&E's Gas Compressor Station located nearby? On December 7, 1987 officials from the company advised the State of California they had detected levels of hexavalent chromium (chrome 6) in a groundwater monitoring well north of the compressor station's waste water ponds. The levels were ten times greater than the maximum amount allowed by law. Known as a cancer-causing chemical since the 1920s, chrome 6 is especially dangerous to lungs. Since many of the Hinkley residents were reporting respiratory problems, a link to chrome 6 contamination seemed possible. After PG&E reported the pollution to the government, company officials started a program to buy every piece of property in the community thought to be affected by the pollution. (That's what medical records had to do with real estate transactions.) It wasn't long before PG&E had 75% of those houses and buildings destroyed. The company reported it was merely responding to vandalism. CHAPTER 3 - MISLEADING STATEMENTS
PG&E distributed flyers discussing the company's use of "chromium" to local residents. Nowhere in the flyer was there any mention of the type of chromium PG&E had used. In fact, one could make a strong case that carefully selected words were deliberately misleading: Chromium occurs in two forms. The form that is present in groundwater can cause health effects in high doses. The cleanup program, however, will result in chromium levels that meet the very conservative drinking water standards set by the EPA. In addition, the form of chromium that will be left on soils after irrigation is nontoxic. In fact, chromium in this form is a naturally occurring metal that is an essential ingredient in the human diet, one that is often included in multiple vitamin/mineral supplements. Reading these words, one could reasonably think PG&E's hexavalent chromium was almost beneficial. As the plaintiffs' trial brief wryly commented, the flyer might have invited a person to "sprinkle some on your morning cereal." Failure to properly identify the dangerous type of "chromium" it had dumped into the environment wasn't PG&E's only omission. The flyer made it sound like detection of contamination at the compressor station was a new development. It wasn't. PG&E first knew about plant contamination by at least 1965.
CHAPTER 4 - 22 YEARS LATE
PG&E records revealed people at the company were concerned about chrome 6 contamination of Hinkley's groundwater "by at least the summer of 1965." (Plaintiffs' Trial Brief) Investigating what PG&E officials knew about the contamination - and when they knew it - Fox TV (local channel 11) ran a series on May 23, 24 and 26, 1994. Here is part of the verbatim transcript contained in the court's file for the May 23rd report: Fox Reporter: What...
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