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BARSTOW, CA — I was in the middle of the Mojave Desert on my way home to Venice Beach after finishing NSFWCORP's grueling 24-hour radio show, when I remembered something I've been meaning to check out in this neck of the desert: a massive new shit-processing facility near Hinkley, a poor town about 40 miles west of Victorville.
If the name "Hinkley" sounds familiar, that's because it probably is. The town was immortalized in Steven Soderbergh's 2000 Oscar-winning docudrama "Erin Brockovich," in which Julia Roberts played a sassy LA lawyer/legal clerk who successfully sued California utility giant PG&E for poisoning the locals' underground drinking water. Turned out that for years a local PG&E pumping substation had been dumping a highly carcinogenic anti-rust agent called Chromium-6, which had then seeped underground and mixed with the town's water supply. Scores of people wasted away from cancer and other mysterious maladies as a result, while PG&E attempted to buy off the locals and suppress information about this from leaking out.
The real-life Erin Brockovich forced PG&E to pay out $333 million, the largest direct-action lawsuit settlement at the time. Meanwhile Julia Roberts snagged an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Brockovich, allowing her to up her next film fee to $25 million.
As for Hinkley, most of the people involved in the PG&E lawsuit have died or taken the money and gotten the hell out. But the town's troubles were far from over.
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