PG&E: Good Work on Relocation Offer at Hinkley but what about the plight of residents on your fenceline in Daly City?
It is good news to hear that officials at the utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, are finally talking with residents of Hinkley about offering to buy their homes so they can relocate to a safer area. The residents live over or near the plume of groundwater contaminated with Chromium 6, a toxic chemical used in the past at one of the utility's facilities,
This relocation offer should have been proffered decades ago when the spill and its devastating health impacts, so aptly chronicled in the movie "Erin Brokovich", first surfaced. But a late offer is better than none at all.
It would be even better news if PG&E officials learned from their experience in Hinkley and applied similar relocation measures in Daly City, CA, where residents of Midway Village, a public housing complex, live in housing that was constructed on top of soil contaminated long ago by one of the utility's neighboring facilities. At their Daly City facility, PG&E officials have maintained that the contaminated soil does not pose a danger to the health of residents even as they carried out a large-scale remedial soil removal program while residents were present at the housing complex. During this remediation residents were exposed to contaminated dust from the excavation, notes Bradley Angel, director of GeenAction, which was involved with a number of protests at the site.
Independent experts, such as Wilma Subra, a chemist who assists community residents who live adjacent to industrial contamination sites, disagree with PG&E officials who say it is safe to live at Midway Village. Subra is concerned that remediation efforts have not gone far enough; and that there are still contaminated soils beneath some of the public housing units and beneath paved walkways.
In my book "Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States," I tell the story of how the residents of Midway Village came to realize they had a contamination problem, how they organized a protest, how they were treated by PG&E officials, and how they lost their lawsuit asking for relocation and compensation for health problems they feel were caused by the contamination.
The book also points out that there are troubling disparities between the extent of remediation actions taken at Midway Village, where many residents are low-income African American and Latinos; and the measures taken in a similar situation in a upscale white community. In Midway Village the soil was not removed from beneath the housing units; in the more affluent community it was. Similarly, residents at the Daly City housing complex were not moved out during the removal of contaminated soil, while residents at the more affluent community were temporarily relocated to a safe area.
In "Sacrifice Zones" I report on a number of instances around the nation where public housing complexes have been constructed immediately adjacent to heavily-polluting facilities. These badly located public housing complexes become toxic traps because residents are stuck in them, regardless of how egredious are the contamination problems, because they fear losing their berth in poublic housing if they complain. One of these dangerously located public housing complexes is located in Port Arthur, Texas, where the residents of Carver Terraces live across the fenceline from a giant Motiva refinery. This land-use configuration, where residential/industrial zoning permits families to live next door to heavy industry (something that would never be allowed in a middle class or affluent community), has predictable and tragic results. Fenceline residents are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals and suffer elevated levels of environmentally-induced disease and premature death.
PG&E officials should be congratulated for finally making a relocation offer in Hinkley. But they should also be urged to make relocation offers in Daly City and in other locations where their emissions cause dangers to neighboring residents.