Tuesday, August 2, 2011

California Leads the U.S. in Setting a Chromium-6 Limit in Drinking Water

Some good news from California: After many years, the California Environmental Protection Agency has finally set and issued the nation’s first significant goal toward limiting hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) in drinking water. If that chemical sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard about it as the cancer causing subject of the movie “Erin Brockovich”, whose namesake sued the PG&E company and the government in 1993 to prove chromium-6 contamination in the groundwater of Hinkley, California.

As reported by TreeHugger.com:
"Chromium 6 or Hexavalent chromium is a carcinogenic pollutant made famous by Erin Brockovich. California's new goal for the pollutant, set by the state's Environmental Protection Agency, was set on Wednesday at 0.02 parts per billion. This is the level of the element that the state believes is not likely to cause a significant health risk in drinking water. Environmentalists supported the goal. The only shortcoming with the goal is that it is not an enforceable standard yet. This is another case where California is leading the nation, as the federal government has not yet set a national limit and does not require water systems testing to distinguish chromium 6 from other less harmful types of chromium."
Chromium is a byproduct of many
industrial metal processes and can
contaminate groundwater for a long time.
The U.S. federal Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing evidence regarding chromium-6 and is expected to make a ruling on its status as a carcinogen later this year. At the end of the review process, they may (hopefully) decide to set a new federal standard on the safe level of chromium-6 in drinking water. The current limit set by the federal EPA is 100ppb (parts per billion), a whopping 5,000 higher than California’s proposed 0.02ppb.

This current federal water standard is based only on ill effects to skin (e.g. dermatitis) and has no basis on what amount is safe to ingest in drinking water. It’s nice to know that the federal government cares about whether our skin is damaged by hexavalent chromium. But I think there something rather odd about the seeming disregard for regulating safe limits that would force utilities to remove cancer causing chemicals from our drinking water. Is it really the EPA we should be upset with, though? As we discussed in our earlier post about the corruption of science, the real issue is with the industries that use these chemicals and their aggressive efforts to forestall and outright prevent any regulatory actions, especially those that could affect profits.

If you want to know about the contents of the drinking water in your area, The Environmental Working Group has released a report on the state of drinking water sources from across the country. EWG’s water survey teams spent years gathering data and the results show many places with unsafe levels of a number of dangerous chemicals. This list of chemicals includes chromium-6 and, in several places, at levels (illegally) above even the paltry federal standard.

Why have local water utilities still not addressed the issue of safe drinking water levels of hexavalent chromium? You guessed it... removing chromium-6 from water is expensive. Given the snail’s pace of the regulatory developments on this issue, few utilities are willing to burden themselves with the additional expenses, since there is no requirement for them to do so.

The process of removing hexavalent chromium requires that water be treated with “reverse osmosis” filters, which for large scale water treatment can be quite costly. For your own safety and peace of mind, however, you can have a reverse osmosis filtration system installed in your home, or buy drinking water from a water provider that filters their water in this manner.

Hopefully, this new goal created by the California Environmental Protection Agency will have far reaching effects. We can only hope that other states and especially the federal government take note and try to match California’s seriousness and ongoing commitment to protecting its citizens.

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

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