Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has agreed to pay $3.6 million for allowing a poisonous plume of Hexavalent Chromium-contaminated groundwater to continue its spread near Hinkley, CA.
PG&E had been under an order to contain the plume by Dec. 31, 2008. Instead, the contamination has spread more than two miles since that time, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Lahontan Region says in a proposed settlement announced Wednesday (Feb. 1) with PG&E.
|A plume of Hexavalent Chromium-laced groundwater still spreads throughout a California community, three years after Pacific Gas & Electric was ordered to contain it.|
The contamination was made famous in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, which dramatized a California paralegal’s crusade against one of the nation’s largest utility companies to compensate sickened residents of the area near Barstow.
PG&E used Hexavalent Chromium (also known as Cr(VI) and Chromium 6) from 1952 to 1966 to fight corrosion in cooling tower water at a Compressor Station the utility owned near Hinkley.
The station was used to compress natural gas for transportation through pipelines. The wastewater from the cooling towers was discharged to unlined ponds at the site, where it percolated to the groundwater and migrated.
Half of the settlement money will be used to build a new, permanent water system for nearby Hinkley Elementary School. Drinking fountains at the school were shut down last fall.
“What was critically important to us in this process was that as much of the settlement as possible go to the Hinkley community,” PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said Thursday (Feb. 2). “We know this is an issue that is very important to the community. It’s important to us as well.”
According to the settlement, the project will be completed at the end of 2017.
The other half of the settlement money will go to the water board’s Waste Discharge Permit Fund.
The settlement also requires PG&E to extract a significant amount of groundwater, sample and determine whether additional extraction is needed.
‘A Major Deviation’
The settlement still must undergo a public comment period, but the financial terms are better for PG&E than they might have been.
PG&E faced a total statutory fine of more than $5.4 million in the case, based on its violation of the earlier order for 1,093 days.
The utility’s “inability to re-establish plume containment as defined by the 2008 Cleanup and Abatement Order has rendered the Order’s plume containment requirement completely ineffective,” the settlement says. “Therefore, there is a major deviation from the requirement.”
The settlement also notes PG&E’s “delay in implementing corrective actions when groundwater monitoring data indicated that the plume was losing containment in November 2008.” The utility did not respond with additional action until July 2010, the settlement says.
However, the state agreed to $3.6 million “for purposes of early resolution considering the risks of litigation” and other factors.
PG&E continues to dispute the water board’s claims.