Suit presses state on CHROMIUM-6 …. And there remains no closure on PERCHLORATE either … !
Erin Brockovich‘s fight isn’t over.
Twelve years after the film bearing her name chronicled her lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for contaminating groundwater in Southern California, the chemical carcinogen she brought to the public’s attention still permeates tap water from Los Angeles to San Jose, studies show.
On Tuesday, two environmental groups sued the state Department of Public Health, putting pressure on the agency to obey a requirement to limit the chemical – hexavalent chromium – in California’s drinking water.
A 2001 state law required the department to set a limit by 2004. It has not.
"We think that this delay of over a decade is unjustified," said Nicholas Morales, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which, with the Environmental Working Group, filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court.
In July 2011, the state Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the state restrict hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, to .02 parts per billion in drinking water. Now it’s up to the Department of Public Health to decide on a limit and enforce it.
The department’s website says the eventual standard, which probably will be released in draft form next year and finalized by July 2015, will be as close to the EPA’s goal as "economically and technically" possible. The agency will be required to consider the reliability of detection methods and the cost of cleanup.
An agency spokesman said department officials could not comment because they had not seen the lawsuit. He also declined to explain the delay in setting the restriction.
Hexavalent chromium often enters drinking water supplies by running off from industrial operations into surface water or seeping from soil into groundwater.
When ingested in large amounts, hexavalent chromium can lead to abdominal pain, vomiting and hemorrhage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Constantly breathing the heavy metal can result in bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory problems.
In 2010, the Environmental Working Group detected it in tap water in 31 U.S. cities. San Jose, at 1.34 parts per billion, and Riverside, at 1.69 parts per billion, had among the top five most contaminated water sources in the country.
The compound became famous in the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich." Julia Roberts starred in the title role as the real-life law clerk who, without a law degree, investigated a PG&E compressor station that transports natural gas in Hinkley, a small San Bernardino County town. Between 1952 and 1966, the company used chromium-6 in water to prevent rust in large towers used for cooling the machinery. The wastewater was dumped in unlined ponds and seeped into groundwater.
In a 1996 settlement, the utilities giant agreed to pay $333 million to Hinkley residents. It was the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history.
"We don’t wholly know what the reason is for taking so long," Morales said.
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