RWQB Imposes $3.6 Million Settlement On PG&E Over Hinkley Contamination

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board on March 14 approved Pacific Gas & Electric’s payment of $3.6 million as a regulatory settlement for failing to adequately address chromium contamination in the High Desert community of Hinkley.
Of the total $3.6 million in fines and administrative charges assessed against the company, $1.8 million will be used to develop a water supply replacement system at Hinkley Elementary School. The fines and charges were imposed because PG&E failed to adhere to Lahontan’s order to sequester a plume of chromium 6 spreading through the water table below Hinkley to its known limits as of 2008.
Four years ago, Lahontan ordered PG&E to dam the aquifer at Thompson Road, install extraction wells north of Thompson Road and collect any chromium 6 before it migrated south of Thompson Road. PG&E claims it was unable to move ahead with that plan partially because of the concerns of environmentalists that the work could harm the habitat of desert tortoises and Mojave ground squirrels in the area.
Between 1952 and 1966, PG&E used chromium 6, also known as hexavalent chromium, to reduce corrosion in its cooling towers for the compression stations the company maintained to transport natural gas in pipelines that stretched from fields in New Mexico and Texas to San Francisco. The chromium 6-laden water was disposed of in unlined trenches near Hinkley, and the highly toxic substance leached into the water table.
Chromium 6 is a man-made compound, does not occur in nature and represents a far greater health hazard than naturally occurring Chromium 3. Testing of wells around Hinkley Elementary School pegged the chromium 6 content at 2 parts per billion. The federal Environmental Protection Agency standard for chromium in drinking water is 100 parts per billion, but the State of California calculates that .02 parts per billion of chromium 6 is a more realistic standard. Chromium 6 has been linked to gastrointestinal tumors, liver and kidney damage, and stomach cancer.
PG&E admitted no wrongdoing in making the settlement. While some local residents had initially indicated they would accept the $3.6 million settlement, since that time a vocal group among them called for it to be rejected. They said the entirety of the $3.6 million should be applied to redressing the plume. Half of the money will go to Lahontan for administrative costs. Residents said Lahontan should reject the settlement because PG&E is acknowledging no responsibility for the contamination. They called upon Lahontan to impose a heftier fine. The Lahontan board ultimately rejected that request, finding that in addition to paying the $3.6 million settlement, the company would continue with the chromium 6 abatement effort.

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