Erin Brokovich, you have seen the movie, but do you remember the name of the town she went to battle for? Do you remember the name of the poison that was contaminating their water supply? Have you ever wondered about the residents of the town and what life was like after Hollywood left?
Would you believe there is only one local business left operating in Hinkley? Is it possible that Hinkley could be the next ghost town in the making? CORPORATE GENOCIDE is the term I use when referring to companies that contaminate and poison a town with the understanding it will kill its residents. Corporate genocide is when the profits to be gained are far greater than any potential pay out lawsuit. Corporate genocide is contaminating a town and then buying out the remaining residents. Even more insulting, is offering them pennies on the dollar for the properties they willingly contaminated. Corporate genocide is only possible when government agencies and regulators turn a blind eye. If the government does not hold corporations accountable then who does?
Hinkley is a town I have continued to follow over the years. I have also wondered about other towns close to Hinkley. Is it naïve to think the water in Barstow, Helendale, and even Apple Valley is not contaminated, or at the very least negatively affected. Hinkley is not an isolated case. There are many towns like Hinckley in the USA, who are living victims of corporate genocide. Sadly their stories are of no interest to mainstream media, as we are more focused on ‘Keeping Up With Kardashians’ than we are with KNOWING what is really going on around us.
Leaving Tehachapi I continued to follow Highway 58 all the way to Hinkley. Some of my friends have wondered why I would want to visit Hinkley. The answer is rather simple; to honor it.
I feel there is somewhat of an irony that Hinkley will be more of a tourist attraction once it becomes a ghost town as opposed to being a living town. It seems we honor history after the fact, yet we remain silent during the process.
My first stop in town was Hinkley Market & Gas. The store was without customers, making my soda purchase rather immediate. The store clerk rang up my purchase and said, “Do you know where you are ma’am?” I said, “Yes, Hinkley.” The clerk was excited to tell me that I was in the town where Erin Brokovich was filmed. I told him I had been following the town’s plight over the years and was saddened to hear the local school was now closed. The clerk asked me where my accent was from, I said Australia. In return I enquired about his country of birth, he said Jordan. That’s right Jordan! We both giggled as we found it ironic and highly unlikely that an Australian would come out of her way to visit Hinkley, to find a Jordanian man living and working in town.
Crossing the town’s train tracks we headed towards the elementary school that was closed last year.
Empty was my feeling knowing that I was passing a school that once was and no longer is. How does a teacher tell their students that their school is closing? Schools symbolize community and add a sense of belonging to a town. How does a town that has been poisoned by a corporation reconcile their sense of loss?
While many people have forgotten about Hinkley, no one should forget the long-term health risks of Hexavalent chromium (or more commonly known as chromium-6). New analysis from the Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, examined evidence from water systems throughout the nation and concluded that the tap water of 218 million Americans contains levels of chromium-6 that the group considers dangerous. Has chromium-6 been accepted and legitimized as an ingredient of America’s water supply? Are citizens being notified that their water supply is toxic and contaminated? Should citizens submit water samples for independent testing?
In 2014, California became the first state to acknowledge that ingested chromium-6 is linked to cancer and as a result established a maximum Chromium-6 contaminant level of 10 parts per billion. For drinking water, the Unite States Environmental protection Agency (EPA) does not have a Maximum Contaminant Level for chromium-6.However, the EPA standard for all forms of chromium-6 is 100 parts per billion.
My brief stop in Hinkley left me with more questions than answers. It’s too late for Hinkley, yet I wonder what the future looks like for Barstow and the surrounding communities.