A plant that would convert sewage sludge to compost may be built outside the desert town of Hinkley, whose troubles from pollution were made famous by the movie "Erin Brockovich."
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday in favor of building the plant eight miles outside of Hinkley. Plans call for processing 400,000 tons of sludge each year.
Residents of Hinkley and nearby communities said they were afraid it would produce odor and bacteria-laden dust that could sicken them.
"You tell me that if your kids and your family lived downwind of this thing that you wouldn't be standing where I'm standing," Hinkley resident Norman Diaz said.
About 120 people, including schoolchildren wearing anti-sludge T-shirts, attended the meeting.
Nursery Products LLC, based in Apple Valley, said its plant would be safe and would use only treated sewage.
"Biosolids are not raw sewage," said David Hagopian, an attorney for the company. "The bottom line is that composting biosolids is safe. We're far away from people, and communities and from industry."
Hinkley was featured in the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich," starring Julia Roberts. The movie portrayed the legal fight of attorney Ed Masry and his assistant, Brockovich, against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. They won a $333 million settlement on behalf of more than 600 Hinkley residents who claimed the utility's tanks leaked carcinogenic poisons into groundwater.
Brockovich did not attend the supervisors' meeting, but an aide read a statement by her.
"Citizens in this area already have compromised immune systems," the statement read. "They moved to a town with open land and open air hoping to have a safe place for their children to visit. Please put yourself in their shoes."
Diaz said Hinkley residents cannot afford to sue to block the project.
"We've spent all our money," he said.