HINKLEY >> Several Hinkley residents are concerned that funding uncertainties of a new study to determine the origin of this Mojave Desert community’s groundwater contamination may compromise its thoroughness.
Some 50 residents attending a briefing at the otherwise closed Hinkley school Thursday evening by John Izbicki, a United States Geological Survey research hydrologist.
Izbicki has been retained by the state of California to prepare a detailed study proposal that would answer with finality the issue of how much of Hinkley’s plume of chromium-6 pollution is related to operations at a PG E compressor station and how much is attributable to natural sources.
A study to answer that question was completed in 2007, but thrown out as being worthless last year.
By analyzing molecular compositions, Izbicki has helped develop several sophisticated techniques to identify separate origins of identical chemicals found in water samples.
Those techniques, supplemented with the use of chemical markers, which are used to date water, will be some of the methods Izbicki’s study will use to learn how much of Hinkley’s cancer-causing chromium-6 is relatively new, therefore belong to PG E and how much is very old, meaning it was put there by nature.
Izbicki said Thursday night that PG E put money for his work on the background study proposal in an escrow account owned by the state of California, which was used to pay for his work so far.
But about $3.5 million is needed from PG E to pay for additional test well drilling, scientific sampling and complex laboratory work needed to complete the study, expected to span four years.
The USGS will contribute $1 million for the scope of work estimated to cost $4.5 million.
Billy Hernandez, one of two Hinkley residents who sits on the working group discussing Izbicki’s proposal, said he believes PG E should put the $3.5 million into an escrow account before the study formally begins next year.
Hernandez said he is afraid that although Pacific Gas Electric Co. “is onboard right now, if the initial part of the study begins to show results they don’t like, they may just pull out.”
PG E is under no law or regulatory board order that requires them to fund a second background study.
“We are very committed to the background study, and will be working with USGS and the water quality control board to develop an appropriate work scope and funding mechanism,” PG E spokesman Jeff Smith said in a prepared statement.