The EWG Released A National Report. Our firm is investigating potential drinking water contamination lawsuits. In September 2016, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a national report indicating that there are dangerous levels of chromium-6 in the tap water of 218 million Americans.
Chromium-6 is the chemical featured in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.” The movie is based on the real-life story of the environmental activist who fought against a major energy company to expose drinking water contamination. Now, it appears that this chemical may not only be present, but widespread, in the drinking water of millions of Americans.
If you or someone you know has any questions about drinking water contamination, call Parker Waichman LLP today.
Two-Thirds of Americans May Be Exposed to High Levels
Chromium-6 is an unregulated chemical that can cause cancer, research shows. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never placed limits on the concentration of chromium-6 in drinking water. Scientists in California have set a public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) for tap water. They estimate that this level, and lower, would pose negligible risks over the course of a lifetime. However, state regulators set the legal limit to 500 times the public health goal (10 ppb) in 2014, EWG reports. The group points out that this high limit stems from aggressive lobbying by industry and water utilities.
In 2010, EWG revealed that chromium-6 was in the drinking water of 31 cities. The groundbreaking investigation prompted a Senate hearing. As a result, the EPA ordered water utilities to conduct testing for the carcinogen. More than 60,000 samples were taken from 2013 to 2015. More than 75 percent of these samples contained chromium-6. EWG conducted an analysis of the data and found that the tap water of 218 million Americans, more than two-thirds of the population, had levels higher than what was considered safe by the California scientists. Their public health goal of 0.02 ppb was set in an effort to protect people from cancer and other health problems. Legal limits are supposed to try to meet these goals with cost and technical feasibility in mind. According to EWG, however, California adopted a much higher legal limit because the state’s Department of Public Health used a “flawed analysis that exaggerated the cost of treatment and undervalued the benefits of stricter regulation.”
“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,” Brockovich commented in a statement. She said the situation can be attributed to “corruption, complacency, and utter incompetence.”
Even though California’s legal limit is many-fold higher than the public health limit set by scientists, it is the only state to regulate chromium-6, so far. EWG reports that 7 million Americans have tap water that exceeds the California limit of 10 ppb.
“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,” said Bill Walker, co-author of the report and managing editor of the EWG. “And what the best science of the last decade tells us is that these chemicals acting in combination with each other can be more dangerous than exposure to a single chemical.”
According to the National Toxicology Program, chromium is a naturally occurring element that is normally found in rocks, animals, plants, soil, and volcanic dust and ashes. There are several different forms of chromium; chromium-3 is an essential nutrient in the human body while chromium-6 is the result of industrial processes such as electroplating, stainless steel production, leather tanning, textile manufacturing, and wood preservation. Research has shown that chromium-6 is associated with lung cancer when airborne. As such, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has placed strict limits for airborne chromium-6 in the workplace.
Comparatively, the EPA has set a limit of 100 ppb for all forms of chromium in the drinking water. The agency has no specific limit for chromium-6.
The National Toxicology Program published a study in 2008 showing that chromium-6 caused cancer in laboratory rats and mice. Study co-author David Andrews, who is a senior scientist with EWG, said “In terms of cancer studies, that is the gold standard of animal studies,” according to CNN. He and Walker say even low levels of exposure to chromium-6 can be harmful in certain situations, such as in pregnant women, infants, and children. These populations can experience “much more serious problems” compared to adults.
The EWG evaluated the EPA’s third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule for its report. The agency gathers information periodically on unregulated chemicals and takes the findings “under advisement,” says Walker. EWG found that only one public system had total chromium levels exceeding EPA standards for total chromium. In 1,370 counties (two percent of water systems), however, the levels of chromium-6 exceeded California’s 10 ppb legal limit. The highest average statewide levels were in Oklahoma, Arizona, and California. These states also had the greatest shares of detections exceeding California’s public health goal. Among major cities, the highest average level was in Phoenix, Arizona where the level was 400 times the health goal. High concentrations were also detected in St. Louis County, Houston, Los Angeles, and Suffolk County, New York.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee commented that, “EWG’s report is another wakeup call that we must take this issue seriously,” Senator Gillibrand has also introduced an amendment that would require all public water supplies to test for unregulated contaminants.
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