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New Report Indicates Dangerous Levels of Chromium-6 in Drinking Water for Millions of Americans

Sep 23, 2016

The Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, says dangerous levels of chromium-6 contaminate the drinking water consumed by hundreds of millions of Americans.

The new report examines evidence from water systems across the country, CNN reports. The group concludes that up to 218 million Americans are drinking tap water that contains levels of chromium-6 EWG considers dangerous. Seven million Americans receive tap water with levels of chromium-6 that are higher than the limit of 10 ppb established by California. California is the only state to enforce a maximum level for chromium-6.

In the 1990s, activist Erin Brockovich was instrumental in a case in California over chromium-6 contamination, CNN reports. In response to the EWG report, Brockovich said, "Whether it is chromium-6, PFOA or lead, the public is looking down the barrel of a serious water crisis across the country that has been building for decades."

The new report indicates that levels of chromium-6 are at or above 0.03 parts per billion in 75 percent of the samples tested by local water utilities on behalf of the EPA between 2013 and 2015. There is scientific uncertainty about safe levels of chromium-6 in drinking water and possible long-term consequences of ingesting it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set a specific limit for chromium-6 in drinking water.

According to the EWG report, Oklahoma, Arizona and California had the highest average statewide levels of chromium-6. Among cities, Phoenix had the highest average level, at almost 400 times the health goal. St. Louis County, Houston, Los Angeles and Suffolk County, New York, also had relatively high levels, CNN reports.

In 2008, a two-year study by the National Toxicology Program found that drinking water with chromium-6 caused cancer in laboratory rats and mice. Based on the 2008 report and other research, scientists at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment set a public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion in tap water, according to CNN.

Bill Walker of EWG, co-author the report said, “Americans are exposed to dozens if not hundreds of other cancer-causing chemicals every day in their drinking water, their consumer products and their foods.” Walker said the “best science of the last decade” indicates that “these chemicals acting in combination with each other can be more dangerous than exposure to a single chemical. David Andrews, co-author of the report and a senior scientist with EWG, said a separate study separate found a higher incidence of stomach cancers in workers routinely exposed to chromium-6. Walker and Andrews also worry that exposure to even very low levels of chromium-6 at crucial periods during the development of a fetus, infant or child could cause "much more serious problems" than it does for an adult drinking a larger dose, according to CNN.

The National Toxicology Program explains that chromium is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, soil and volcanic dust and gases. Chromium-3, one of its forms, is an essential nutrient. Chromium-6, which is rare in nature, is produced by industrial processes. Chromium-6, a carcinogen, is used in electroplating, stainless steel production, leather tanning, textile manufacturing and wood preservation.

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