More Hinkley homes in toxic plume’s path

Erin Brockovich not surprised by news

Brooke Self | Desert Dispatch

Roberta Walker stands in front of her 4,000 square foot barn and electricity-generating windmill that she had built at her new residence in Hinkley in 1993. Her horse named ‘Pockets’ is also seen in the background. Walker said it is her family’s “dream home” and is saddened by the contaminated plume’s recent expansion. / Brooke Self, Desert Dispatch

HINKLEY • Four new homeowners have been included in the one-mile buffer zone of the toxic groundwater plume after the release of the latest data from Pacific Gas and Electric’s monitoring, according to PG E spokesman Jeff Smith.

Homeowners in the zone receive the option of a buyout offer from PG E or a whole-house water purification system.

Lahontan Regional Quality Control Board Assistant Executive Officer Lauri Kemper said she believes the most recent movement of the groundwater plume called the “western finger” and now the “thumb,” may potentially have a wider impact. She said she had just received the new well data from PG E and was still unsure of the true amount of properties that would be included.

Roberta Walker, a Hinkley resident who was a part of the original class action lawsuit filed against PG E, chose to stay in the area following the record $333 million settlement. Her family built their “dream home” 7.5 miles from the plume in 1993, she said. In 2010, she was informed that her home was in the plume’s path.

“It’s like the lightening striking twice because this is the second time this has hit me,” she said. “You try to trust the big organization and company that promises to clean it up. Because of that I took it to heart and I stayed here, away from the plume.”

Walker said she doubts the company has ever had a handle on the groundwater plume, stating that the further outside they choose to test by adding additional monitoring wells, “they hit chromium.”

“So it’s like, why keep going from in to out?” Walker said. “When they should just go beyond and work their way in.”

Erin Brockovich, the woman who made the entire town and it’s water issues internationally recognized, is close friends with Walker. The two worked together in gathering information for the original litigation. Brockovich said on Friday that she was “disappointed and concerned,” “really frustrated,” and wished she was surprised by the plume migration news.

“I wish at some point in time we can figure out why we can’t control the situation,” Brockovich said. “There’s a lot of emotions. Forget about how I feel, it’s concerning and becoming more and more difficult to decipher what the facts are and what they aren’t. This has gone on for, what? Let’s just say technically since 1960, and it is 2013. This is craziness, it just is.”

Kemper said that the natural groundwater flow in Hinkley does in fact flow beneath the core of the original contamination near the company’s compressor station. That means in areas where the plume is not contained, such as in the north, water has continually combed through the chromium 6 and continues to flow.

She said the company has made progress recently in cleaning up the core area, where chromium 6 levels historically reached above 50 parts per billion. PG E officials also argue that they have pumped more than 100 million gallons of water from the fresh water injection wells located in the western area to direct the flow eastward and do not believe that science supports plume migration there.

Kemper said one example that would refute the claim that chromium contamination is not migrating west is the data from monitoring well 121D located near the “western finger.” The well has been tested continually since the third quarter of 2011 and has seen its traces of chromium rise seven quarters in a row from 1.4 parts per billion to above 3 ppb.

“You can see that trend does not happen in nature,” Kemper said. “Wells just don’t keep going up unless they’re being impacted by chromium … I know they have their own pieces of evidence but this is one of ours.”

She said they were planning a discussion between all of the interested parties regarding the plume and the alternative map that PG E has submitted in the coming week. The meeting would include PG E’s project managers, the water board, the Community Advisory Committee’s technical expert, and an official from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Contact Brooke Self at or at 760-256-4122.