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Erin Brokovich played by Julia Roberts


JULIA ROBERTS - Plays the part of Erin Brokovich superbly in the film of the same name. Here we focus on some of the assets that served her so well when investigating the contamination at Hinkley in California.




Maneuvering his pickup through this Mojave Desert town, resident Daron Banks pointed at empty lot after empty lot.

"Last time I was here there was a home right here. There was a home here, there was a home here," he said, making his way down the bumpy road in the place made famous by the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich."

Fifteen years after the film showed triumphant residents winning a $333-million settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for contaminating its water and nearly 20 years after the settlement itself Hinkley is emptying out, and those who stay still struggle to find resolution.

For residents, questions remain about the safety of the water, just how much contamination PG&E caused and how to fix it.


This year, a final cleanup plan is moving toward approval. Last month, a long-awaited, five-year study to determine how much contamination PG&E may be responsible for finally got underway.

"At some point in the next few years we're going to get some closure," Banks said.

But today there's little left in Hinkley beyond some scattered homes and acres of alfalfa and other grasses, planted to help clean the contamination.

"You had a great community out here and now it's gone," said resident Roger Killian.

Hinkley was a small farming community in the 1990s when residents learned that groundwater was polluted with chromium 6, a cancer-causing heavy metal. It had seeped into the water after being dumped into unlined ponds at the utility company's compressor station in the 1950s and '60s.


Since then, hundreds of residents have left. Property values dropped because of the stigma surrounding the town, and PG&E launched a buyout program.

Roberta Walker, a plaintiff in the original lawsuit and Banks' mother-in-law, said that at the time of the settlement, residents like her believed the plume of contamination was limited to a well-defined area around the compressor station.

But in 2009, PG&E "let it get away from them and it started migrating toward other properties," said Lisa Dernbach, a senior engineering geologist specialist with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state agency overseeing the cleanup. That resulted in a $3.6-million fine against the company in 2012, she said.

Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman, said what looked like growth of the plume was actually the result of additional testing in areas that had previously gone unexamined. Dernbach said the migration happened after the utility changed pumping in some extraction wells.

More recently, the contamination plume appears to have shrunk. Kevin Sullivan, director of chromium remediation for PG&E, said a system installed in 2007 to treat the contamination with injections of ethanol has reduced the chromium by 40%.



Hinkley, California



Starting in 2010, PG&E offered to either provide clean water or buy properties of residents whose wells tested positive for chromium.


Smith said that when the program was announced, there was a high level of anxiety in the community and many residents wanted to sell their properties rather than take the water. The company, he said, wants to see Hinkley thrive.

"I think sometimes it's misconstrued that PG&E wanted to come in and purchase a tremendous amount of land in Hinkley and that was just not the original intent," he said.


Between 2010 and October 2014, when the program was formally discontinued, PG&E purchased about 300 properties, he said.

With residents leaving, the school could no longer be sustained. It shut down two years ago.

The owner of the property that houses the town's post office and only market recently approached PG&E asking to sell and the utility agreed to buy, Smith said. The post office closed last month and the market will soon follow, an employee said.

As residents leave, the cleanup has progressed and technologies have improved. About 250 acres of alfalfa and other grasses now dot the town where some properties once stood and are used to help convert chromium 6 into the micronutrient chromium 3.




LEGAL STUFF - Working with Edward L. Masry, a lawyer based in Thousand Oaks, California, Brockovich went on to participate in other anti-pollution lawsuits. One suit accused the Whitman Corporation of chromium contamination in Willits, California. Another, which listed 1,200 plaintiffs, alleged contamination near PG&E's Kettleman Hills compressor station in Kings County, California, along the same pipeline as the Hinkley site. The Kettleman suit was settled for $335 million in 2006.

In 2003, Brockovich received settlements of $430,000 from two parties and an undisclosed amount from a third party to settle her lawsuit alleging toxic mold in her Agoura Hills, California, home. After experiencing problems with mold contamination in her own home in the Conejo Valley, Brockovich became a prominent activist and educator in this area as well.

Brockovich and Masry filed suit against the Beverly Hills Unified School District in 2003, in which the district was accused of harming the health and safety of its students by allowing a contractor to operate a cluster of oil wells on campus. Brockovich and Masry alleged that 300 cancer cases were linked to the oil wells. Subsequent testing and epidemiological investigation failed to corroborate a substantial link, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Wendell Mortimer granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs. In May 2007, the School District announced that it was to be paid $450,000 as reimbursement for legal expenses.

Brockovich assisted in the filing of a lawsuit against Prime Tanning Corp. of St. Joseph, Missouri in April 2009. The lawsuit claims that waste sludge from the production of leather, containing high levels of hexavalent chromium, was distributed to farmers in northwest Missouri to use as fertilizer on their fields. It is believed to be a potential cause of an abnormally high number of brain tumors (70 since 1996) around the town of Cameron, Missouri, which is currently being investigated by the EPA.

In June 2009 Brockovich began investigating a case of contaminated water in Midland, Texas. "Significant amounts" of hexavalent chromium were found in the water of more than 40 homes in the area, some of which have now been fitted with state-monitored filters on their water supply.[19] Brockovich said "The only difference between here and Hinkley is that I saw higher levels here than I saw in Hinkley."

On April 20th, 2015, Brockovich made a statement on her Facebook page opposing fluoridation.



But despite the progress, many Hinkley residents still worry about how much chromium 6 will remain in the water. PG&E is required to clean up to the levels at which chromium 6 naturally occurs in the groundwater a number known as the background level.

A study commissioned by PG&E a few years ago said chromium 6 naturally occurred in Hinkley groundwater at levels of 3.1 parts per billion.

"Anything above 3.1 provided a lot of anxiety to the people in Hinkley," said Dernbach, of the water control board.

Last year, the state of California set a safe drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion.


Although levels of chromium 6 nearest to the compressor station where no residents remain exceed that by large numbers, PG&E's testing in domestic wells elsewhere in the community shows chromium 6 levels below 10 parts per billion, most often between 0 and 5, Sullivan said.

Smith, the PG&E spokesman, said the state-designated level has helped ease some residents' concerns.

But others say they are disturbed that chromium 6 is showing up in their wells at all. Some say neighbors and family members have suffered ailments they believe were caused by the contamination, leading them to believe that even low chromium levels are dangerous.

The safe drinking water standard adopted by the state which is hundreds of times greater than a non-enforceable public health goal set by the state Environmental Protection Agency has been criticized as too high by some environmental groups.

For years, residents questioned whether the study commissioned by PG&E putting the background level at 3.1 parts per billion was even accurate.


Banks solicited help from John Izbicki, a U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist who has studied naturally occurring chromium 6 in the Mojave Desert. With pressure from residents, PG&E acknowledged that its earlier study was lacking. It is paying for a five-year study led by Izbicki that is expected to conclusively determine the background level.

At a community meeting this month, fewer than a dozen residents gathered in the Hinkley Community Center to hear Izbicki describe his upcoming study.

Izbicki said water samples would be sent to Germany, Nevada, Virginia, Northern California and other places for testing. Some of it would be handled in the same USGS labs that do testing for NASA.

When he was done, the meeting's facilitator asked longtime resident McHenry Cooke, 81, if he would "trust the data."

"I haven't reviewed it all," he said skeptically.

As the meeting wrapped up, John Turner, who volunteers to keep the community center open, said he felt optimistic about the town's future. For years, community meetings have been filled with negativity, he said, but this one was productive.

He hopes PG&E will play a role in helping to rebuild the community so residents can move forward. "It's time," he said.  By Paloma Esquivel







Gleeson Developments Limited are a property developer firm based in Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Like other house builders they are looking to acquire land to make profits for their shareholders. With the recent abandonment of local policies in England, it is like a Land Rush to acquire greenbelt (previously undeveloped land used in farming) that would not have been possible to build on before David Cameron and George Osborne gave councils the order to build houses to try and dig the country out of debt. Even difficult to develop sites are now being snapped up, such at that at Herstmonceux in East Sussex - a field that around 300 objectors in the village did not want buildings on.





The village at Herstmonceux in Sussex is served by a very few local shops and one junior school that is overloaded. Locals are being priced out of the housing market steadily - a trend that a not in accord with a sustainable society.





The original application to develop this land was filed in December 2014 in the name of Tim Watson and (possibly joint) land owner Sue Goldsmith. This application was withdrawn and a second identical application was filed in January of 2015 in the name of Gleeson Developments Limited.


According to their website: "MJ Gleeson plc specialises in urban housing regeneration and strategic land trading. Latest Share Price: 567.00p at 11th January 2016."




ERIN BROKOVICH - Erin Brockovich-Ellis (born June 22, 1960) is an American legal clerk and environmental activist, who, despite the lack of a formal education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Since the release of the film that shares her story and name, she has hosted Challenge America with Erin Brockovich on ABC and Final Justice on Zone Reality. She is the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting, a consulting firm. She now works as a consultant for Girardi & Keese, the New York law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which has a focus on personal injury claims for asbestos exposure, and Shine Lawyers in Australia.





Apart from the fact that there are no places at the local school and public transport is one bus every hour from Stagecoach - with journey times to Eastbourne of around an hour, Herstmonceux benefits from a very rare generating building from the turn of the century that is now a working Museum, and that Museum  is linked historically to the Windmill at Windmill Hill. At the moment you can see across the field from the public footpaths to both buildings - one of the rarest views in the world - and a reminder of the days when windmills ground flour for a local bakery to bake the daily loaves.


This generating building relies on water from an ancient well and the well is at the foot of the hill on which Gleeson Developments would like to build around 70 houses. A blot on the landscape maybe, but it gets worse. Water from the hill feeds the ancient well. It follows that any land contamination from the construction process, or in years to come from the domestic development, will filter down to the water table and enter the well water. The water level in the well rises and falls with rainfall from the gently sloping hill. There is no escaping this fact. But so far there have been no assurances or confirmation of a Bond to cater for future claims.



Potentially contaminating the well at Herstmonceux a real life claim in the making


HINKLEY, CALIFORNIA - GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION - The town of Hinkley, California, located in the Mojave Desert, (about 121 miles driving distance north-northeast of Los Angeles) had its groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium starting in 1952, resulting in a legal case against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and a multimillion-dollar settlement in 1996. The legal case was dramatized in the film Erin Brockovich, released in 2000.

Residents of Hinkley filed a class action against PG&E, encaptioned Anderson, et al. v. Pacific Gas and Electric (Superior Ct. for County of San Bernardino, Barstow Division, file BCV 00300.

In 1993, Erin Brockovich, a legal clerk to lawyer Edward L. Masry, investigated the apparent elevated cluster of illnesses in the community linked to hexavalent chromium. The efforts of Brockovich and Masry, and the plight of the people of Hinkley, became widely known when the film Erin Brockovich was released in 2000.

After many arguments, the case was referred to arbitration with maximum damages of $400 million. After the arbitration for the first 40 people resulted in roughly $110 million, PG&E reassessed its position and decided to end arbitration and settle the entire case. The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history.

In 2006, PG&E agreed to pay $295 million to settle cases involving another 1,100 people statewide for hexavalent chromium-related claims. In 2008, PG&E settled the last of the cases involved with the Hinkley claims for $20 million.





That would mean that every person buying a house on this field would be first in the chain of litigation claims. All the householders would need to do is allow herbicides and pesticides from their gardens to enter the watercourse. The same goes for engine oils and paints.


Knowing that this is sure to be a future issue, the Museum operators will need to constantly monitor activities in the field next door to be able to prove who the culprits are. The house owners, even if they are at fault, will then need to claim against their house insurance - and they may well find that they are not covered where no 106 Agreement exists and there is no Bond to cater for contamination claims. If their home insurance covers claims against negligent development, and/or the grant of a permission that then proves to be void, their homes would have to be demolished. In such cases the developers would need to compensate the home buyers for not making appropriate provision and/or otherwise safeguarding the planning consent.


It may also be that where this field suffers from flooding at the other end, that has to be provided for at the design stage, that remedial and preventative drainage is likely to alter subsoil water flow characteristics - leading to wider claims, such as with landslip. It all depends on the soil characteristics and geological strata juxtaposition.


At the moment the local authority are being asked to explain which of their officers provided information to the committee who passed the application. Other questions also need to be answered as to Declarations of Interest, since this application was passed by only one vote. It may well be that after scrutiny, the planning consent is deemed to be void. Members voting on applications need to do so on an informed basis. If there is any failure to advise on the part of the officers, such as Kelvin Williams, the district planning officer. The Chief Executive officer of this council is Charlie Lant.



Gleeson Developments carrying out land survey at Herstmonceux in Sussex





In light of the above, every stage of the construction process will need to be monitored to be sure that if the development goes ahead despite the know issues, that there is a photographic record of who did what. We are off to a good start with exploratory holes being dug at the top of the hill near an specimen oak and another exploratory hole or trench being dug not many feet from the ancient well.





On their website Gleeson say: "Owner occupiers shoulder responsibility for their homes & are stakeholders in society, which is why we refuse to sell our homes to private landlords. We are happy to see our customers profit from their purchase but we do not wish to put the profit into the pockets of private landlords."


The truth is that the houses that will be built on this field in Herstmonceux will be bought by private landlords for renting. This is what is happening in the village and outlying hamlets. Why? Because working families cannot afford to live in Herstmonceux, with own transport being a prerequisite and these days that means two cars per family. Families on low incomes will qualify for Housing Benefit and on that benefit landlords grow fat. It is only with Housing Benefits that these houses will be occupied - making the affordable housing situation worse.




ERIN'S MOVIES - Brockovich's work in bringing litigation against Pacific Gas and Electric is the focus of the 2000 feature film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts in the title role. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing in a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Roberts won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Erin Brockovich herself had a cameo role as a waitress named Julia R.

Brockovich has a more extensive role in the 2012 documentary Last Call at the Oasis, which focuses not only on water pollution but also on the overall state of water scarcity as it relates to water policy in the United States





Gleeson Homes (Head Office)
0114 261 2900

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