Monday, July 8, 2013

Legal Cases and Forensic Toxicology

The case of the Hinkley groundwater contamination in the 1990's opened the world not only to the investigative skills of Erin Brokovich, but also to the importance of forensic toxicology. Over the course of the investigation and trial of the case, it was established that the drinking water in Hinkley homes was contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a chemical used by the Pacific Gas & Electric company to prevent rust in their machinery. The hexavalent chromium eventually leaked into the drinking water supply of the Hinkley homes. Forensic toxicology established that the hexavalent chromium present in the drinking water caused serious illnesses, including cancer, among many of the residents of Hinkley.

Forensic toxicology is the study of various kinds of poisons, poisonous materials, their effects on living things, and any role poison may play in a crime. Poisons can come in many shapes and forms. Hexavalent chromium, for example, is an industrial chemical used to treat metals that just so happens to be carcinogenic (or cancer-causing) to humans.

Aside from industrial and clinical poisons, there are also environmental poisons, or substances found naturally in our surroundings. Examples of these are molds and radon, as well as toxins from certain mushrooms and plants.

Forensic toxicologists are involved in the investigation of cases where poison may be involved, whether deliberately or not. These include drug and alcohol testing for DUI cases and environmental contamination cases, just like the Hinkley groundwater incident.

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