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California Town Decides on Home Sales to PG&E Amid Pollution Concerns

BananaStock/Thinkstock(HINKLEY, Calif.) -- Residents of Hinkley, Calif., faced a deadline Monday to decide whether to sell their homes to the power company that polluted their desert town, or stay and accept a water treatment system installed at no charge.

Pacific Gas & Electric gave the choice to 314 homeowners who live within one mile of a chromium 6 contaminated plume.  They had until the end of Monday to decide.

The contentious relationship between Hinkley and PG&E was sparked after scientists found hexavalent chromium 6 in the local wells, a result of pollution caused by the company’s compressor station, after an investigation sparked by law clerk Erin Brockovich.

The power company agreed to a $333 million settlement with the town in 1997, but the cleanup of the chromium 6 and its pollutant by-products, and the efforts to define the areas affected by the plume remain contentious issues between Hinkley residents and PG&E.

“We’ve been working with the Hinkley community for a couple of years and are listening to their concerns.  This is why we started this offer,” PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith told ABC News.

“In April 2012, we have expanded the eligibility to include 314 homeowners a mile wide from the plume with any presence of chromium levels,” he said.

Some residents have said that the expansion of the area admitted by PG&E to be contaminated is an indication that the company is still polluting the area, but Smith said it’s not that the pollutants are spreading, but that the company is spreading its testing.

“The reason we are finding more contaminated areas is because we are testing in areas that haven’t been tested before and as a result the plume map keeps changing.  But PG&E have stopped using the toxins since the 1960s,” he said.

The cleanup itself has been a problem, however, some residents claim, because now new pollutants are plaguing the town.

“The clean-up of chromium is going on, but we are faced with a new problem, the by-products that result from the clean-up.  Now arsenic, manganese, and other pollutants are showing up in our water and these are not being addressed by PG&E,” Hinkely Elementary School Principal Larry Notario told ABC News.

“Also, the water fountains at our school have been shut off for a year while PG&E has been supplying us with bottled water,” he said.

As for the value of the properties whose owners have decided to sell, PG&E told ABC News that it is not appraising them based on the conditions at Hinkley, but as though they were in a normal town.

“Otherwise the value of the houses will be very low,” Smith said.  “We are treating the property as if it were in a neighboring town not having problems similar to Hinkley.”

The complete figures of the sales have not yet been made official.

“We do have initial data though,” Smith said.  “It is a 60-40 percent, with 60 percent opting to sell their property.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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