Who could forget Erin Brockovich, the gutsy legal clerk who steered a whole town to engage in a legal battle akin to the clash between David and Goliath? No one could, especially when Julia Roberts played her in the eponymous box office hit back in 2000 and helped reveal the plight of the Hinkley residents.
Hinkley, California, located along the Mojave Desert, was home to energy corporation Pacific Gas & Electric’s compressor stations and cooling towers. For decades, the water in the cooling towers and ponds contained hexavalent chromium to prevent machinery rust. The unlined ponds caused the chemicals to seep into the town’s groundwater, contaminating it, and causing adverse health effects to residents.
The prosecution needed scientific corroboration and documentation to substantiate the extent of PG&E’s disregard for the residents. Consequently, the residents sought the help of a forensic toxicologist to determine the toxicity levels of the substance through comprehensive tests, examine affected people, and interpret each meticulous detail as accurately as possible. The findings augmented the prosecution’s argument that the company concealed vital information about the lethal material and negligently instigated the development of lifelong illnesses.
Fortunately, the case was resolved promptly with proper documents by the prosecution and reliable conclusions by the forensic toxicologist who exposed the contamination’s impact. In the end, the presiding judge ordered PG&E to provide compensation amounting to a total of $333 million to Hinkley residents, the biggest settlement for a direct action lawsuit recorded in US history.