Chromium 6 Makes for Heavy Drinking in 31 U.S. Cities

December 28, 2010

Following a report that found hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, in the tap water of 31 cities, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will introduce legislation aimed at setting a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish an enforceable standard for chromium 6.

The chemical, commonly discharged from steel and pulp mills, metal-plating plants and leather-tanning facilities, can cause cancer in people and damage to the gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes and liver of animals.

If we are what we drink, things could get heavy.

Heavy drinker?

Water safety - it's not just for lifeguards anymore

A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed drinking water in 35 cities across the country and found the highest levels of chromium 6 in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Riverside, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and San Jose, Calif.  Pittsburg, PA was also on the list.  [Update on January 6: see comments from Hawaii State Health Director.]

"We have no problem at all with any of the heavy metals in the river. What makes (chromium-6) a newer issue now is there's some more recent data that indicates ingestion may be a problem," said Stanley States, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's director of water quality and production, as reported by the Pittsburg Tribune Review.

EPA denies the drinking problem

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson met with senators to discuss U.S. water policy and the results of the EWG study. In a statement Jackson said, “EPA has already been working to review and incorporate the ground-breaking science referenced in this report. However, as a mother and the head of EPA, I am still concerned about the prevalence of chromium 6 in our drinking water.” Jackson went on to say that although the “EWG study was informative”, it provided only a “snapshot in time.”

“EPA is already on a path toward identifying and addressing any potential health threats from excessive, long-term exposure with its new draft assessment released this past fall,” said Jackson. “Strong science and the law will continue to be the backbone of our decision-making at EPA. EPA takes this matter seriously and we will continue to do all that we can, using good science and the law, to protect people’s health and our environment.”

Although EPA tests for total chromium levels, these tests, which are based on decades-old standards, do not show precise amounts of chromium 6. The federal government currently sets the total chromium standard at 100 parts per billion.


Guest blogger Laura Chidester has worked as a technical journalist for over ten years and currently manages the Documentation team at Actio Corporation while continuing to report on broader industry and environmental trends.