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By Rachel Leven
Aug. 3 — Residents from the California town portrayed in the movie “Erin Brockovich” can't sue Pacific Gas and Electric Co. under civil rights laws over the company's alleged poisoning of an aquifer used for drinking water, a federal court ruled ( Urbina v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Co., 2016 BL 250194, C.D. Cal., No. 2:16-cv-02699, 8/2/16 ).
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act preempts civil rights law because it regulates contaminants in public water systems that can cause harm, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in 19 separate, but related cases.
Hinkley, Calif., residents' groundwater that PG&E allegedly contaminated had “25 connections,” meaning it constitutes a public water system, and related claims fall under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the court said in its order dismissing the case.
However, the court said the residents can file an amended complaint seeking relief.
The Aug. 2 dismissal of the complaint is the latest action in the ongoing saga portrayed in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich” that centered on the investigation of drinking water in Hinkley tainted with hexavalent chromium. That investigation spurred a separate lawsuit against PG&E, which culminated with a $333 million arbitration award for some residents.
According to this latest lawsuit, the chromium contamination wasn't cleaned up appropriately and now the groundwater that supplies private drinking wells in Hinkley is contaminated with arsenic and uranium. Residents also alleged PG&E conspired with the state to poison the water.
“Plaintiff(s) and all other similarly situated Plaintiffs are digesting drinking water poisoned with Uranium, and can become not only extremely ill, but could be dead by poisoning,” a complaint filed in April told the court.
Hinkley residents, whose property is on top of the allegedly contaminated drinking water, have 21 days from the date of the order to file an amended complaint or voluntarily dismiss the case. Oscar Urbina, one of the plaintiff residents, and PG&E didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's messages requesting comments.
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The order in Urbina v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. is available at http://src.bna.com/hpJ.
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