Tuesday, September 27, 2016

200 Million Americans Have ‘Erin Brockovich’ Carcinogen in Their Tap Water © Shannon Stapleton / Reuters


By Eric Pianin
September 23, 2016


Lead contamination of municipal water systems, sadly, is a relatively widespread problem in this country and would require massive resources at the federal and local level to adequately address the problem. CNBC reported recently that data it obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that 41 states have reported higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in drinking water during the past three years.


Now comes a troubling report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist research organization, that chromium-6, a carcinogenic chemical compound, has contaminated water supplies for more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states. The tests conducted by utilities across the country and supervised by the EPA found chromium-6 in almost 90 percent of the water systems sampled.

The study found that levels of chromium-6 are at or exceed 0.03 parts per billion in three-quarters of the samples that were tested between 2013 and 2015. Roughly seven million people received or consumed tap water with levels of the compound higher than the 10-parts-per-billion legal limit set by California— the only state that currently imposes a maximum contaminant level.

Arizona, California and Oklahoma had the highest average statewide levels, according to the report. Phoenix by far had the highest average level among major cities while Houston and St. Louis also registered comparatively high levels.

Hexavalent chromium or chromium-6 is a chemical compound commonly used in industry for a number of purposes, including electroplating and manufacturing stainless steel and textiles. Chromium-6 is also used as a coolant in power plant towers and is found in the ash of coal burned by utilities. While scientists may differ on the degree of public health risks that it poses, research has shown that exposure to small quantities of chromium-6 in drinking water can produce cancer in humans and animals.

A two-year study released in 2008 by the National Toxicology Program found that drinking water with chromium-6 caused cancer in laboratory rats and mice. Subsequently, research scientists at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded in 2011 that ingestion of even tiny amounts of chromium-6 could cause cancer in people. That finding was later confirmed by scientists in New Jersey and North Carolina, according to EWG.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers all chromium compounds to be “occupational carcinogens” that are closely connected with lung, nasal and sinus cancer, according to a government website.

The chemical industry has long opposed tough regulation of chromium-6, arguing that additional research was needed. The EPA has never set a specific limit on chromium-6 in drinking water, although the environmental agency has established a drinking water standard of 100 parts per billion for all forms of chromium, which is a natural occurring element.


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