December 20, 2010 – Hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical at the center of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” was found present in the tap water of 31 of 35 cities tested in a recent survey. The findings, released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, are the first study of hexavalent chromium to be made public. Researchers with the advocacy group have released the study at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is debating whether to set a cap on the “probable carcinogen’s levels in tap water, the Washington Post reports.
Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president of research, says the toxin has been linked to stomach cancer and leukemia along with other health problems, CBS News reported Monday. Hexavelent chromium, also known as chromium-6, originates as refuse from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities, EWG said in a statement. It can also contaminate tap water through erosion of natural deposits.
The carcinogen first came into the public eye in 1993, when Erin Brockovich famously sued Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting the drinking water of Hinkley, Calif. The lawsuit eventually yielded $333 million in damages. Today, the highest levels of chromium-6 can be found in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and Riverside, Calif., EWG claimed.
“Every single day, pregnant mothers in Norman, Oklahoma, school children in Madison, Wisconsin, and many other Americans are drinking water laced with this cancer-causing chemical,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D said in the statement.
“If the EPA required local water utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, the public would at least know if it was present in their local water. Without mandatory tests and a safe legal limit that all utilities must meet, many of us will continue to swallow some quantity of this carcinogen every day.”
With regulations on the water supply possibly in the works, what can consumers do to reduce their intake of the toxin? “With levels this high, it’s critically important that people begin to think about filtering their water,” Houlihan told CBS News.
Unfortunately, inexpensive carbon filters commonly found in filtration pitchers and faucet attachments don’t do much to remove chromium-6. Reverse osmosis filtration systems should do the trick, but they can cost hundreds of dollars.
There are no legal restrictions for hexavalent chromium in bottled water, so plastic water bottles may not be a safe option either. “It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23 years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm,” Brockovich said in EWG’s statement. “This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health risks that millions of Americans still face because of water contamination.”
The following cities tested positive for CR6: 1. Norman, Oklahoma 2. Honolulu, Hawaii 3. Riverside, California 4. Madison, Wisconsin 5. San Jose, California 6. Tallahassee, Florida 7. Omaha, Nebraska 8. Albuquerque, New Mexico 9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 10. Bend, Oregon 11. Salt Lake City, Utah 12. Ann Arbor, Michigan 13. Atlanta, Georgia 14. Los Angeles, California 15. Bethesda, Maryland 16. Phoenix, Arizona 17. Washington, D.C. 18. Chicago, Illinois 19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 20. Villanova, Pennsylvania 21. Sacramento, California 22. Louisville, Kentucky 23. Syracuse, New York 24. New Haven, Connecticut 25. Buffalo, New York 26. Las Vegas, Nevada 27. New York, New York 28. Scottsdale, Arizona 29. Miami, Florida 30. Boston, Massachusetts 31. Cincinnati, Ohio
So…how do you remove hexavalent chromium from water? The technologies most often used to remove CR6 and approved by USEPA are reverse osmosis and ion exchange. Adsorption, which is what activated carbon does, is also effective.
Not everyone needs reverse osmosis and in some of the cities listed above I do not recommend it because the water quality is pretty good. The reality of treatment is that a really good carbon system will create a physical obstruction that the water has to pass through. This process, in combination with the adsorption characteristics of carbon, will reduce or remove CR6.
The ion exchange method mentioned by EPA is basically a specific type of water softener, so if you choose to go with that route you’ll be incurring some expense. This may be appropriate if CR6 is present in levels that are dangerous to your health.
Here is an update as of 1-7-11
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has proposed strengthening the “health goal” for hexavalent chromium in drinking water from 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) to 0.02 ppb, The Press-Enterprise reported.
The proposal comes on the heels of new research that indicates fetuses, infants and children are more susceptible to the effects of the suspected carcinogen, the article stated.
A recent study by the Environmental Work Group found that 31 of 35 tap water sources tested in the U.S. have hexavalent chromium levels higher than 0.02 ppb.
The draft goal, which is based on the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment analysis of scientific data, is now the subject of a month-long public comment period with a final health goal expected by mid-2011, according to the story.
Once established, the state Department of Public Health is expected to use the goal to set a legal limit for drinking water.
Beyond health concerns, the department will consider treatment options, the capability of tests to detect such minute quantities and the costs that ultimately would be passed on to consumers, the article reported.
“We need to move quickly in setting an enforceable standard,” said Andria Ventura, program manager for Clean Water Action, an environmental group in San Francisco.
As you know if you’ve worked with me I start by reviewing a water report before making a recommendation on treatment. Numerous factors go into the selection of a water purification system whether for the whole house or the kitchen. Call me if you’d like to review your local supplier’s water quality report. If you’re interested in learning more this is a good resource:
To learn more about the systems I provide visit Home Water Purification Systems.