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Below is a full Report of CNN unveiling the harm and the contamination of Chromium-6 in the drinking water of more than 200 Million Americans.

By Susan Scutti, CNN

Updated 7:27 PM ET, Wed September 21, 2016

(CNN) Dangerous levels of chromium-6 are contaminating tap water consumed by hundreds of millions of Americans, according to a national report released Tuesday.

Chromium-6 is the carcinogenic chemical that was featured in the popular 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts as the titular activist. The US Environmental Protection Agency has never set a specific limit for chromium-6 in drinking water.

There is scientific uncertainty regarding safe levels of this chemical in drinking water and possible long-term consequences of ingestion. But this new analysis from the Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, examines evidence from water systems throughout the nation and concludes that the tap water of 218 million Americans contains levels of chromium-6 that the group considers dangerous.

“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 said in a written statement Tuesday, blaming it on “corruption, complacency and utter incompetence.”

Specifically, the new report indicates that levels of chromium-6 are at or above 0.03 parts per billion in 75% of the samples tested by local water utilities on behalf of the EPA between 2013 and 2015. Seven million Americans receive tap water with levels of chromium-6 that are higher than the legal limit established by California — 10 ppb — which is the only state to enforce a maximum contaminant level. All these figures may be confusing, but the real point is that chromium-6 is one of many chemicals in our environment, said Bill Walker, co-author of the report and managing editor of the Environmental Working Group. The group receives grant money from the Turner Foundation, which is chaired by CNN founder Ted Turner, who is no longer involved with the news organization or any Turner entity.

“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. “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.”


What is chromium-6?


Chromium is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, soil and volcanic dust and gases, according to the National Toxicology Program.

It comes in several forms, including what is commonly called chromium-3, an essential nutrient for the body. Chromium-6, which is rare in nature, is produced by industrial processes. Chromium-6 is used in electroplating, stainless steel production, leather tanning, textile manufacturing and wood preservation, according to the National Toxicology Program. Chromium-6 is also found in the ash from coal-burning power plants and used to lower the temperature of water in the cooling towers of power plants.

Scientific reports have indicated that breathing in airborne chromium-6 particles can cause lung cancer. Based on these reports, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets strict limits for airborne chromium-6 in the workplace.

By contrast, although it lacks a specific limit for chromium-6, the EPA has established a drinking water standard of 100 parts per billion for all forms of chromium. This limit was established in 1991 based on scientific information at that time indicating that large quantities of chromium were toxic.

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.

“In terms of cancer studies, that is the gold standard of animal studies,” said David Andrews, co-author of the report and a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group. He said a separate scientific study found a higher incidence of stomach cancers in workers routinely exposed to chromium-6.

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. The new report notes that the scientists believe this level would pose only “negligible risk over a lifetime of consumption.”

Still, Walker and Andrews say this is a problem. Exposure to very low levels 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, Walker explained.

In 2014, California regulators adopted a legal limit of 10 ppb as the state’s enforceable standard: 500 times higher than the public health goal established by scientists. New Jersey and North Carolina government scientists independently assessed a health-based maximum contamination level for chromium-6 that is only slightly higher than California’s.


Unregulated contaminants


For its report, the Environmental Working Group reviewed the EPA’s third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.

“The EPA periodically does this: goes down and looks for what it calls unregulated contaminants,” or chemicals in drinking water that are not regulated, Walker said. The EPA gathers its information through local utilities and then takes the results “under advisement,” according to Walker.

According to the group, the report indicated that only one public water system had total chromium exceeding EPA standards, but 2% of the water systems — 1,370 counties — had chromium-6 levels exceeding California’s standard of 10 ppb.

Oklahoma, Arizona and California had the highest average statewide levels and the greatest shares of detections above California’s public health goal of 0.02 ppb, the report found. Of major cities, Phoenix had the highest average level at almost 400 times this health goal. St. Louis County, Houston, Los Angeles and Suffolk County, New York, also had relatively high levels.

“EWG’s report is another wakeup call that we must take this issue seriously,” said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who this month introduced an amendment to require testing of all public water supplies for unregulated contaminants.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in a statement that it weighed all of the scientific evidence and “does not anticipate excess cancer risks from chromium-6 concentrations routinely measured in drinking water in Texas.”

The EPA did not directly address the report, but a representative said the agency is working on a health assessment of chromium-6 that will be released for public comment in 2017.

“When you find widespread evidence of contamination, do something about it. Don’t just study it to death,” Walker said, adding that the new report is not about “trying to raise the alarm about a single chemical. We’re kind of using chromium-6 as a poster child for systemic failures of drinking water regulation.”

CNN updated its finding with a map of the U.S showing where elevated levels of Chromium-6 are found.

By Susan Scutti, CNN

Updated 8:24 PM ET, Wed September 21, 2016


(CNN)The Environmental Working Group reported Tuesday that dangerous levels of chromium-6 contaminate tap water consumed by millions of Americans. This is the carcinogenic chemical featured in the true story turned Hollywood movie “Erin Brockovich,”

For its report, the independent environmental advocacy group examined evidence from water systems throughout the nation.

What level of chromium-6 in drinking water is considered dangerous?

The US Environmental Protection Agency has set the federal standard for total chromium in drinking water at 100 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA has never set a specific limit for chromium-6, one form of chromium, a naturally occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, soil and volcanic dust and gases. Chromium-6 is rare in nature though it is produced by industrial processes. Airborne and large quantities of chromium-6 are known to be toxic.

In fact, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that high levels of airborne chromium-6 can cause cancer; the agency requires companies to protect their employees from workplace exposure.

New report finds chromium-6 in drinking water

However, there is uncertainty about chromium-6 in drinking water. Scientists disagree about what exactly a safe amount for water is and what the possible long-term consequences may be when people ingest it through water.

The Environmental Working Group used two separate standards when deciding whether existing chromium-6 levels in community water systems might be dangerous.

The first standard is the public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion set by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. This level, which would pose only “negligible risk over a lifetime of consumption,” is endorsed as “safe” by the Environmental Working Group because it addresses concerns about fetal, infant and child exposure to the chemical. What is nontoxic for an adult may not be so for a developing baby.

The group also looked at the actual legal limit adopted by California regulators, even though the group’s scientists consider this too lenient a standard: 10 parts per billion.

By the stricter standard, the Environmental Working Group found the tap water of 218 million Americans has dangerous levels of chromium-6.

By the more lenient standard, the group found the tap water of 7 million Americans has dangerous levels of chromium-6.


Where was chromium-6 found?

The report found chromium-6 in almost 90% of the water systems sampled across the nation. Oklahoma, Arizona and California had the highest average statewide levels, though not necessarily above the lenient standard.

Among major cities and metropolitan areas, Phoenix had the highest average level, at almost 400 times the California health goal: 7.853 ppb. St. Louis County in Missouri (1.258 ppb) and Houston (0.747 ppb), relative to other urban areashad high levels as well.

Following these were Philadelphia (0.388 ppb); Dallas (0.274 ppb); California’s South Coast Water District, including Capistrano (0.223 ppb); Columbus, Ohio (0.207 ppb); and the Las Vegas Valley Water District (0.203 ppb).

Chicago, San Antonio, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in Maryland, Fairfax County in Virginia and Cleveland all ranged between 0.10 ppb and 0.20 ppb. Finally, Miami-Dade in Florida; San Diego, Laguna Beach, and Alameda and Contra Costa counties in California; New York City; Baltimore; Denver; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, all ranged between 0.035 ppb and 0.085 ppb.

The Environmental Working Group report provides more specific information.

Who is testing for chromium-6?

Water systems are required to test for total chromium, which includes both chromium-6 and chromium-3, a naturally occurring form that is an essential nutrient for the body. Total chromium found in water samples must be below the current federal standard of 100 ppb.

The EPA does not regularly test water systems of communities with fewer than 10,000 people, relying on random testing instead.

Still, no matter how large or small a community water system, anytime total chromium in tap water exceeds the federal standard, local residents must be notified.

Yet chromium-6 and chromium-3 can convert back and forth in water and in the human body under the right chemical environment. The EPA regulation of 100 ppb assumes any measurement of total chromium can turn into 100% chromium-6.

This regulation is a concern to some scientists. Based on the best available science at the time, the EPA regulation was established more than two decades ago, in 1991. With rapid advancements in science, some experts believe the rule may be outdated today.

The EPA is reviewing scientific data, including the results of a long-term animal study that suggests chromium-6 may be a human carcinogen if ingested. It expects to complete its review sometime next year, and at that time, the agency will allow public comment. Following this, the agency will consider a decision to revise its chromium limit.

If you are worried for yourself and your family, you might protect yourself by the steps below.

How do I test my water for chromium-6?

Most commercial do-it-yourself home test kits do not offer a chromium-6 test.


Whether you have a well or municipal water, your best option for testing would be either a water treatment professional or an EPA-certified lab, which has been evaluated as technically competent to provide accurate data. The Water Quality Association, an industry organization for water treatment and delivery companies, can help find professionals and labs in your area.

For additional information about nearby water testing, you can also use the state and province list from the Water Systems Council, another industry group.

You might also find it helpful to visit your local health department’s environmental health division to ask for information about what has typically been found in local groundwater, suggests NSF International, a product testing, inspection and certification organization. Your health department might also provide you with more information about testing services as well.

Can I test myself and family members to see if we’ve been exposed to chromium-6?

According to study results presented at a scientific guidance panel in California, chromium can be measured in a wide variety of biological samples, including blood, urine, saliva, hair, breast milk and joint fluid. Absorbed chromium is secreted in urine. Blood and urine measurements are considered most reliable for detecting elevated levels in the body.

Within red blood cells and other parts of the body, chromium-6 may be reduced to chromium-3, a nontoxic form of the chemical. Yet differences between individuals exist: Some people may more readily and more successfully convert the chemical to the harmless form. Elevated levels in either blood or urine may indicate exposure, but other factors complicate the interpretation of results.

“To interpret elevated chromium urinary and/or blood levels, additional information, such as from an exposure questionnaire, is necessary,” wrote the authors of the report.

Can I filter chromium-6 from my water?

According to the Environmental Working Group, chromium-6 can be filtered from water by certified products which include one simple pitcher and 12 under-the-sink reverse osmosis units. Suggested water filters can be found here.

Reverse osmosis uses a semipermeable membrane as a filter to remove ions, molecules and large particles from water. Generally, these purification units can be found in hardware stores and installed under the sink. Water is forced across the membrane, effectively blocking chromium-6 and other harmful substances such as lead and arsenic.

From coast to coast, we are seeing unfortunate results showing Pharmaceuticals in the water supplies. Medications that were found in the supply range from Pain, Infections, High Cholesterol, Asthma, Epilepsy, Mental Illness as such Anti-Anxiety and Mood Stabilizers, and Sex Hormones.


By Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard

updated 3/10/2008 11:06:37 AM ET



A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.


From California to New Jersey 

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information” and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

“We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation’s 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.


Key Findings


Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

  • Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city’s watersheds.
  • Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.
  • Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.
  • A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco’s drinking water.
  • The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.
  • Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven’t: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP’s investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation’s water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city’s water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that “New York City’s drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system” — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP’s questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.


Not just an urban problem


Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren’t in the clear either, experts say.

The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City’s upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals.

If you have been confused or hearing mixed things about the drinking water in the U.S, here is a great way to start learning about our “Standards” and how they may be hurting us, not helping us.

California’s Legal Standard for Hexavalent Chromium is 10ppb. That’s 500 times the Public Health Goal. The EPA may choose to do nothing!

Our water should be safe, not filled with Cancer causing carcinogens. Don’t allow others to tell you what they think is safe. Get Involved Now.  Read More – please make this hyperlink expand the rest of the below text.

By David Andrews, Senior Scientist, and Bill Walker, Managing Editor


In the film “Erin Brockovich,” the environmental crusader confronts the lawyer of a power company that polluted the tap water of Hinkley, Calif., with a carcinogenic chemical called chromium-6. When the lawyer picks up a glass of water, Brockovich says: “We had that water brought in ‘specially for you folks. Came from a well in Hinkley.”

The lawyer sets down the glass and says, “I think this meeting’s over.”

But almost 25 years after that real-life confrontation,[1] the conflict over chromium-6 is not over. A new EWG analysis of federal data from nationwide drinking water tests shows that the compound contaminates water supplies for more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states. Yet federal regulations are stalled by a chemical industry challenge that could mean no national regulation of a chemical state scientists in California and elsewhere say causes cancer when ingested at even extraordinarily low levels.

20The standoff is the latest round in a tug-of-war between scientists and advocates who want regulations based strictly on the chemical’s health hazards and industry, political and economic interests who want more relaxed rules based on the cost and feasibility of cleanup. If the industry challenge prevails, it will also extend the Environmental Protection Agency’s record, since the 1996 landmark amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, of failing to use its authority to set a national tap water safety standard for any previously unregulated chemical.

In 2008, a two-year study by the National Toxicology Program found that drinking water with chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, caused cancer in laboratory rats and mice. Based on this and other animal studies, in 2010, scientists at the respected and influential California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded that ingestion of tiny amounts of chromium-6 can cause cancer in people, a conclusion affirmed by state scientists in New Jersey and North Carolina.

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. (A part per billion is about a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool.) But in 2014, after aggressive lobbying by industry and water utilities, state regulators adopted a legal limit 500 times the public health goal. It is the only enforceable drinking water standard at either the state or federal level.

Potentially unsafe concentrations for two-thirds of Americans

Spurred by a groundbreaking 2010 EWG investigation that found chromium-6 in the tap water of 31 cities[6] and a Senate hearing prompted by the findings, the EPA ordered local water utilities to begin the first nationwide tests for the unregulated contaminant. From 2013 to 2015, utilities took more than 60,000 samples of drinking water and found chromium-6 in more than 75 percent of them.[7] EWG’s analysis of the test data estimates that water supplies serving 218 million Americans – more than two-thirds of the population – contain more chromium-6 than the California scientists deemed safe.



The California scientists based their public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion solely on protecting people from cancer and other diseases. Public health goals are not legally enforceable, but legal limits are supposed to be set as close as possible to health goals “while considering cost and technical feasibility.” But the California Department of Public Health relied on a flawed analysis that exaggerated the cost of treatment and undervalued the benefits of stricter regulation, and adopted a legally enforceable limit of 10 parts per billion.

Even by that far-too-lax benchmark, EWG’s analysis of EPA tests shows that more than seven million Americans are served tap water from supplies that had at least one detection of chromium-6 higher than the only legal limit in the nation. Because the EPA tests covered only a fraction of the small systems and private wells that supply water to more than a third of Americans, it is highly likely that chromium-6 contamination is even more widespread.

12,000 Americans at risk of cancer


The EPA tests show that water tested in 1,370 U.S. counties had an average level of chromium-6 exceeding California’s non-binding public health goal – the amount posing no more than a one-in-a-million risk of cancer for people who drink it daily for 70 years. (By contrast, the state’s legal limit represents a cancer risk of 500 per million.) Comparing the public health goal to levels of contamination found in the EPA tests, EWG estimates that if left untreated, chromium-6 in tap water will cause more than 12,000 excess cases of cancer by the end of the century.

The tests found chromium-6 in almost 90 percent of the water systems sampled. Oklahoma, Arizona and California had the highest average statewide levels and the greatest shares of detections above California’s public health goal. Among major cities, Phoenix had, by far, the highest average level, at almost 400 times the California health goal, and St. Louis and Houston also had comparatively high levels.


Average level of chromium-6 in largest U.S. water systems

Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 data


Battles in New Jersey, North Carolina

Scientists in California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment are not alone in determining that extraordinarily low levels of chromium-6 in drinking water can cause cancer.

In 2010, New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, a state agency comprised of scientists, utility officials and citizen experts, calculated a health-based maximum contaminant level – what California calls a public health goal – of 0.06 parts per billion, just slightly higher than California’s. This year, scientists in North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, also drawing on the 2008 National Toxicology Program study that drove the California goal, calculated a do-not-drink level matching the New Jersey number.

But neither New Jersey nor North Carolina has set a legal limit for chromium-6 in tap water. In both states, scientists’ health-based recommendations were at odds with the decisions of politically appointed regulators.

In New Jersey, the press reported the water quality institute’s recommendation before it could be formally submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection for development of a regulation. According to former DEP planner Bill Wolfe, now an environmental advocate, this angered Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie. Wolfe said Martin not only blocked submission of the recommendation, but effectively stopped the institute from meeting for four years, delaying drinking water regulations for more than a dozen chemicals.

In a statement to EWG, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said the department “vehemently disagrees with the EWG’s contention that political pressure in any way influenced the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute’s consideration of an MCL for chromium-6.” The spokesman said EWG’s characterization is based on the “opinion of a single, former NJDEP employee who was last employed by the agency 12 years ago,” and that EWG’s criticism is “critically flawed – and blatantly misleading.”

In North Carolina, scientists at the Department of Environmental Quality were alarmed by levels of chromium-6 in hundreds of private wells near unlined pits where Duke Energy dumped coal ash. The scientists warned well owners not to drink water with chromium-6 levels higher than their calculations found were safe. But higher-ups at the department rescinded the do-not-drink warnings, citing the lack of federal regulation as justification for telling well owners their water met all state and federal standards.

The head of the Department of Environmental Quality, Donald R. van der Vaart, previously worked for a utility that is now part of Duke Energy. He was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke Energy for 29 years before he ran for office. After the McCrory administration issued a public statement attacking the integrity of a scientist who resisted their plan to rescind the do-not-drink warnings, state epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies resigned, saying she “cannot work for a department and an Administration that deliberately misleads the public.”


 Sources of contamination and health hazards

The conflict over chromium-6 regulation stems not only from the question of how much is safe, but the staggering cost of cleaning up such a widespread contaminant that is an industrial pollutant but also occurs naturally. The California Department of Public Health estimates that treating the state’s water to meet the legal limit of 10 parts per billion will cost nearly $20 million a year, so the cost of meeting the much more stringent public health goal would be far higher.

There are two main types of chromium compounds. Chromium-3, or trivalent chromium, is a naturally occurring compound and an essential human nutrient. Chromium-6 also occurs naturally, but is manufactured for use in steel making, chrome plating, manufacturing dyes and pigments, preserving leather and wood and, as in the Brockovich case, lowering the temperature of water in the cooling towers of electrical power plants. Chromium-6 is also in the ash from coal-burning power plants, which is typically dumped in unlined pits that a 2011 report by the nonprofit Earthjustice said may threaten hundreds or thousands of water supplies and private wells. And recent research has suggested that some methods of treating water supplies to remove other contaminants may actually increase levels of chromium-6.

Human studies by government and independent scientists worldwide have definitively established that breathing airborne chromium-6 particles can cause lung cancer, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets strict limits for airborne chromium-6 in the workplace. Whether inhaled or ingested, it can also cause liver damage, reproductive problems and developmental harm. Studies have found that exposure to chromium-6 may present greater risks to certain groups, including infants and children, people who take antacids, and people with poorly functioning livers.



But because of the unsettled science – including the crucial question of how much chromium-6 the stomach converts into mostly harmless chromium-3 – the EPA has only set a drinking water limit for total chromium, the combined level for both compounds. That outdated regulation from 2001, based on skin rash concerns, is 100 parts per billion – 5,000 times California’s public health goal for chromium-6 and 10 times the state’s legal limit.


Industry scheme to discredit stomach cancer link


After Brockovich uncovered chromium-6 pollution in Hinkley, residents filed a class-action lawsuit that Pacific Gas and Electric Company, or PG&E, settled in 1996 for a record $333 million. The case pushed California legislators to pass a law calling for regulators to set an enforceable drinking water standard. The law set a 2004 deadline for the regulation, but it was delayed by a PG&E-backed scheme.

In 2001, as state scientists conducted a risk assessment to guide the regulation, an epidemiologist named Jay Beaumont noticed something fishy. A Chinese scientist had revised a key study of chromium-6 in drinking water, reversing his original finding of a strong link to stomach cancer. Some members of a “blue-ribbon” panel advising the state cited the revised study as evidence against a strong regulation. But when Beaumont tried to find out why the scientist had changed his mind, it turned out he was dead.

Beaumont learned that the study was rewritten not by the original author, but by consultants hired by PG&E to help defend the Brockovich case. Before the Chinese scientist died, they paid him a token amount for access to his original data, manipulated it to hide the link to stomach cancer, and published the revised study in a scientific journal without disclosing their or PG&E’s involvement.

What’s more, the advisory panel included the head of the consulting firm, Dennis Paustenbach of San Francisco-based ChemRisk, who was once described in a Newark Star-Ledger investigation of his role in weakening New Jersey chromium regulations as having “rarely met a chemical he didn’t like.” A 2013 investigation by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity found that Paustenbach and other ChemRisk employees also worked for General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Merck, all companies with liability for chromium pollution, and the Chrome Coalition, an industry lobbying group.

After his role in tampering with the Chinese study was exposed, Paustenbach resigned from the advisory panel. Beaumont and his colleagues started over, using the authentic study to guide the public health goal. In 2005, EWG obtained and published documents and emails that detailed the deception, which was also recounted in a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal. The scientific journal that published the bogus study retracted it.


EWG conducts first-ever tests for chromium-6 in U.S. cities

In 2010, in the first-ever tests for chromium-6 in U.S. tap water, EWG found the chemical in 31 of 35 cities, with water in 25 cities containing levels above the California public health goal. The worst contamination was in Norman, Okla., where the level was 600 times the public health goal. Levels in Honolulu, Hawaii; Riverside and San Jose, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and Tallahassee, Fla., ranged from 100 to 62 times the California health goal. Sources of the contamination are largely unknown, although Oklahoma and California have high levels of naturally occurring chromium and California has the nation’s highest concentration of industrial sites that use chromium.

EWG’s tests and a petition from environmental groups pushed the EPA to add chromium-6 to the chemicals for which local utilities must test under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. The 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act require the EPA to select up to 30 previously unregulated contaminants for testing every five years. In 20 years, the agency has ordered testing for 81 contaminants, but has moved forward on setting a regulation for just one, the rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate, and is two years behind schedule on finalizing and implementing the regulation.

For our analysis, EWG matched the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule database with the federal Safe Drinking Water Information System to obtain county and population data. Population calculations for each utility were based on EPA data, and when projected to the county or state level, EWG used the U.S. Census Bureau estimates from July 2014.


The EPA results match EWG’s 2010 tests closely, with exceptions such as Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M., where the EPA tests detected significantly higher levels of chromium-6. The EPA results identify several communities where levels of chromium-6 are strikingly higher than those in the surrounding state, but determining whether this is because of industrial pollution or natural occurrences would require site-by-site investigation.


Industry stalls EPA risk assessment

After the 2008 National Toxicology Program study found that mice and rats who drank chromium-6-laced water developed stomach and intestinal tumors, scientists in the EPA’s Integrated Risk and Information System, or IRIS, began a risk assessment, the first step toward drafting a national regulation to cap chromium-6 contamination in drinking water. They saw that the 2008 study provided clear evidence that chromium-6 is carcinogenic, and reviewed hundreds of other studies. In 2010, the EPA completed, but did not officially release, a draft risk assessment that classified oral exposure to chromium-6 as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”


The American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s powerful lobbying arm, argued that before formally releasing the draft for public comment, the EPA should wait for the publication of studies funded by the Council and the Electric Power Research Institute on the biological mechanisms through which chromium-6 triggers cancer. In an April 2011 letter obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Vincent Cogliano, acting director of IRIS, responded to the chemistry lobby that “granting your request could entail a delay of unknown duration with no public discussion or review of the strong new studies that are now available.”

That’s exactly what happened.

An external review panel, which the Center for Public Integrity later found included three members who consulted for PG&E in the Brockovich case, pressured the EPA to grant the American Chemistry Council’s request. In 2012, the EPA quietly announced that the draft risk assessment will be held up until the chemical lobby’s studies are finished. EWG and other public health groups objected vociferously, not only due to the delay on chromium-6 but “the dangerous precedent suggested by delaying risk assessment activities to allow incorporation of as-yet unpublished, industry-funded research.”

The EPA’s prediction of when the risk assessment will be released for public comment has been pushed back repeatedly – from 2015 to the second quarter of 2016, and then to early 2017. When asked for an update, Cogliano wrote in an Aug. 24 email to EWG: “We expect to release a draft health assessment document in 2017, though I wouldn’t use the word ‘early.'”


EPA may choose to do nothing

Also on Aug. 24, an EPA spokesperson wrote in an email to EWG that the agency “has not made any decision regarding revising the drinking water regulations for [total] chromium or establishing regulations for hexavalent chromium.” That’s troubling, as the industry studies are expected to support the position that the EPA should do nothing at all.

The industry-funded studies are being conducted by ToxStrategies, a Texas-based science-for-hire consulting firm. The Center for Public Integrity found that a principal scientist at ToxStrategies, Mark Harris, had worked on the PG&E-funded scheme to revise the Chinese scientist’s paper linking chromium-6 to stomach cancer while at ChemRisk. The Center reported that Harris and his ToxStrategies colleague Deborah Proctor previously “were leaders in the chrome industry’s efforts to dissuade the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from setting stricter rules for airborne chromium in the workplace.”

In June, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released a proposal for a daily safe dose of chromium-6 in drinking water that drew heavily on studies by Proctor and other ToxStrategies scientists. It argues that the EPA’s current legal limit for total chromium – 100 parts per billion, with no separate limit on chromium-6 – is adequate to protect public health. Joseph T. Haney Jr., the Texas state toxicologist who was the lead author of the paper, told the newsletter Inside EPA it was “a remarkable coincidence” that his calculations yielded a daily safe dose corresponding exactly to the EPA’s current regulation for total chromium.

Haney’s paper assumes there is a threshold for how much of a contaminant is harmful, and that no level of chromium-6 the EPA tests found in U.S. drinking water exceeded that amount. But the so-called linear method the EPA generally requires for mutagens – carcinogenic chemicals that cause cancer by damaging DNA, which can occur when even a single molecule enters a cell – assumes that any level of exposure carries some risk. The National Toxicology Program’s 2008 two-year study of lab animals found clear evidence that chromium-6 causes cancer, and the EPA’s 2010 draft risk assessment found that it is a powerful mutagen, so the linear method should be used to calculate cancer risk.

The ToxStrategies model rejects the EPA’s finding that chromium-6 causes cancer by damaging DNA, instead arguing that it causes hyperplasia, an increase in the number of cells, which may or may not be cancerous. It is based on a 90-day animal exposure study, in contrast to the more rigorous two-year National Toxicology Program study. It also ignores the growing body of independent research exploring the effects of small doses of carcinogens in combination with the myriad other cancer-causing chemicals Americans are exposed to daily.

A dangerous precedent

If the EPA accepts the ToxStrategies threshold model, it could mean not only that chromium-6 will remain unregulated in drinking water, but also set a precedent that could undermine health protections for other carcinogenic chemicals. The EPA must reject the industry-backed effort, which is supported not by unbiased science to protect health, but by agenda-driven research to protect polluters from paying cleanup costs.

The recent conflict in North Carolina is one example of how the EPA’s failure to set enforceable national regulations is leaving Americans at risk from chromium-6 contamination. The result is not just an unsettled scientific debate, but the exposure of hundreds of millions of people to a cancer-causing chemical in their drinking water.

Cleaning up water supplies contaminated with chromium-6 will not be cheap. But the answer to high costs is not allowing exposures at unsafe levels while pretending water is safe. And the fact that some unknown level of chromium-6 contamination comes from natural sources does not negate Americans’ need to be protected from a known carcinogen.

Instead, the EPA and state regulators must set drinking water standards to protect the public, including those more susceptible to the toxic effects of chromium-6. Chromium-6 polluters must be held accountable and pay their shares of cleanup costs. The EPA and state regulators must focus on ensuring that water systems lacking the resources to meet health-protective standards have access to necessary funding, expertise and support so they can provide communities with truly safe water.