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20 September 2016

Chromium-6: 'Erin Brockovich' Chemical Threatens Two-thirds of Americans

More than two-thirds of Americans' drinking water supply
has more chromium than the level that California 
scientists say is safe, according to a new report.
Photo:  Jessica Lewis/ Getty Images
Chromium-6: 'Erin Brockovich' chemical threatens two-thirds of Americans
by Tafline Laylin, The Guardian,
20 September 2016

‘We simply can’t continue to survive with toxic drinking water,’ says Erin Brockovich, as a new report finds 200 million people exposed to chromium-6

In the 2000 biographical film about a legal clerk who brings a major utility company to its knees for poisoning residents of Hinkley, California, Erin Brockovich ended on a Hollywood high note with a $333m settlement from PG&E. But chromium-6 contamination of America’s drinking water is an ongoing battle the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is losing.

Nearly 200 million Americans across all 50 states are exposed to unsafe levels of chromium-6 or hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer in animals and humans, according to a new report released Tuesday by the nonprofit research and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Today, Brockovich says Hinkley wasn’t an isolated event.

“The water system in this country is overwhelmed and we aren’t putting enough resources towards this essential resource,” Brockovich wrote in an email to the Guardian. “We simply can’t continue to survive with toxic drinking water.”

In their analysis of the EPA’s own data collected for the first nationwide test of chromium-6 contamination in US drinking water, the report’s co-authors Dr David Andrews and Bill Walker, senior scientist and managing editor of EWG, found that 12,000 Americans are at risk of getting cancer.

Drinking water in Phoenix, Arizona, has the highest concentration of chromium-6 contamination. Of the 80 water samples taken across the city – water that serves 1.5 million people – 79 showed average concentrations of 7.853 ppb. California scientists have recommended a public health goal of 0.02 ppb, but industry pressure led to the adoption in 2014 of a legal safe limit of 10 ppb.

“More than two-thirds of Americans’ drinking water supply has more chromium than the level that California scientists say is safe – a number that’s been confirmed by scientists in both New Jersey and North Carolina,” according to Walker.

“Despite this widespread contamination, the US currently has no national drinking water standard for chromium-6.”

Dr Andrews said: “Part of the reason behind writing this report is really highlighting how our regulatory system is broken – in its ability to incorporate new science, and its ability to publish and update drinking water standards.”

Hexavalent chromium is used in a variety of processes: leather tanning, chrome-plating and small cottage industries that use dyes and pigments. But few unleash as much of it into the environment as the electric power industry.

“In 2009, the electric power industry reported 10.6m pounds of chromium and chromium compounds were released to the environment,” according to a 2011 Earthjustice report. “These 10.6m pounds represent 24% of the total chromium and chromium compounds released by all industries in 2009.”

In 2008, the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, released a report detailing how cancerous tumors developed in mice and rats that drank heavy doses of chromium-6.

According to EWG, based in part on this study, scientists at the California Office ofHealth Hazard Assessment concluded in 2010 that ingestion of tiny amounts of chromium-6 can cause cancer in people.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an advisory, non-regulatory agency formed to oversee hyper-toxic Superfund sites, reports long term oral exposure to unsafe levels of chromium-6 compounds are associated with gastrointestinal system cancers.

“The California scientists set a so-called public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion in tap water, the level that would pose negligible risk over a lifetime of consumption,” according to the EWG report.

“But in 2014, after aggressive lobbying by industry and water utilities, the state regulators adopted a legal limit 500 times the public health goal.”

EWG says the California Department of Public Health relied on a flawed analysis that “exaggerated the cost of treatment and undervalued the benefits of stricter regulation”.

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