Activist wants PG&E to ‘come clean’ on pollution

The Associated Press
Friday November 17, 2000

SAN JOSE — Erin Brockovich, whose long legal fight against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was celebrated in a hit movie, joined another environmental challenge against the utility company Thursday. 

Brockovich and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition called on PG&E to be more forthright about which of its facilities in the San Francisco Bay area have used PCBs – chemicals that have been linked to cancer. 

The Toxics Coalition said PCBs have been detected in the bay, and in San Jose streams in an experiment by high school students. The group complained that PG&E has not given state regulators a requested report on which of its facilities have used PCBs. The company also failed to attend an Oct. 31 meeting on the subject. 

“I appreciate their position and their frustration with PG&E,” Brockovich said in a telephone interview. “I have to giggle a bit, though, because I don’t think PG&E is going to roll over and provide information.” 

PG&E spokesman Jon Tremayne said the utility was not hiding anything. He said the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board asked less than two weeks ago for the report on which PG&E facilities have used PCBs. 

“We’re more than happy to provide it to them, and we’re in the process of putting it together right now,” he said. He said the company’s PCB expert missed the Oct. 31 meeting because he had to talk that same day with an official from another state agency. 

Production of PCBs, which were used to prevent oil from breaking down, has been illegal in the United States since 1978. Tremayne said the company does not use the chemicals anymore, though small amounts may remain in older equipment. 

In 1998, PG&E was sued by a retired employee who claimed that for 28 years, his supervisors had told him to siphon PCB-laden oil from natural gas lines into creeks. 

PG&E settled the lawsuit, and Tremayne said the company found three places where small amounts of PCBs had gotten into soil in creek beds, all near valves in pipelines and probably from small leaks, not intentional dumping. Those sites are being cleaned up, Tremayne said. 

Michael Stanley-Jones, a senior researcher for the Toxics Coalition, warned that some fish in the Bay area could be contaminated with PCBs and said the organization believes “PG&E is the largest user of PCBs, still, in the Bay area.” 

Tremayne disputed that and said many other companies used PCBs in more harmful ways. “I would argue that a small amount of PCBs in the bay, if any, could be attributed to any PG&E activity,” he said. 

Brockovich first took on PG&E as a legal researcher in the early 1990s, investigating accusations that the company contaminated the groundwater and sickened people in the Mojave Desert town of Hinkley. The resulting lawsuit and $333 million settlement was the subject of the movie in which Brockovich was portrayed by Julia Roberts. 

Brockovich next worked on a bigger case against PG&E, alleging that the utility contaminated the water in Kettleman Hills, in the Central Valley. That lawsuit is scheduled for trial next year. 

On the Net: 

Toxics Coalition: http://www.svtc.org 

PG&E: http://www.pge.com