Many people and domestic animals in the high desert town of Hinkley, California were getting sick. Some had died. Since residents depended on the local groundwater supply for all their needs, were the illnesses somehow related to PG&E's Gas Compressor Station located nearby?
On December 7, 1987 officials from the company advised the State of California they had detected levels of hexavalent chromium (chrome 6) in a groundwater monitoring well north of the compressor station's waste water ponds. The levels were ten times greater than the maximum amount allowed by law.
Known as a cancer-causing chemical since the 1920s, chrome 6 is especially dangerous to lungs. Since many of the Hinkley residents were reporting respiratory problems, a link to chrome 6 contamination seemed possible.
After PG&E reported the pollution to the government, company officials started a program to buy every piece of property in the community thought to be affected by the pollution. (That's what medical records had to do with real estate transactions.) It wasn't long before PG&E had 75% of those houses and buildings destroyed. The company reported it was merely responding to vandalism.