Water Pollution News- Latest Chromium 6 Pollution

| May 04, 2011reverse osmosis banner vertical

The Washington Post -- Study finds probable carcinogen in tap water of 31 U.S. cities



A new analysis showing the presence of a probable carcinogen in the tap water of 31 cities across the country has raised questions about possible risks posed to consumers in those communities and how they can reduce their exposure.

The chemical, hexavalent chromium, got public attention in the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich" and has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Although basic water filters such as those made by Brita and PUR do not remove hexavalent chromium, several reverse-osmosis systems designed for home use can take the chemical out of water. Such systems are available for purchase online and at hardware stores.

Bottled water is not necessarily an alternative because it is often drawn from municipal water systems and can still contain hexavalent chromium or other contaminants.

The analysis, released Monday by the Environmental Working Group, is the first nationwide look at hexavalent chromium in drinking water to be made public. The advocacy group sampled tap water from 35 cities and detected hexavalent chromium in 31 of those communities. Of those, 25 had levels that were higher than a health goal proposed last year by the state of California.

Locally, Bethesda and Washington had levels of .19 parts per billion, more than three times the California goal.

The federal government has not set a limit for hexavalent chromium in drinking water but is reexamining the chemical to decide whether it should impose such restrictions. "This definitely raises the issue about a national drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium and why we don't have one," said Lynn Goldman, an epidemiologist and former top official at the Environmental Protection Agency who now serves as dean of the School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Goldman said the new study demands deeper investigation. "This is the very first signal that there might be a problem," she said. "But it's premature to say we know really what the level (of contamination) is, whether it's there all the time or just intermittently and what the source is."

Illinois senators Richard Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) planned to meet Tuesday with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to discuss the report, which found hexavalent chromium in Chicago drinking water at about the same levels as in Bethesda and Washington.

Last year, California released a draft of a "public health goal" for a safe level of hexavalent chromium in drinking water: 0.06 parts per billion. If the state sets a limit, it would be the first in the nation.

Hexavalent chromium was a commonly used industrial chemical until the early 1990s. It is still used in some industries, such as chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.

It has long been known that hexavalent chromium causes cancer in humans if it is inhaled. But in the past several years, researchers have found it causes cancer in animals when it is ingested. In 2007, the National Toxicology Program documented significant increases in tumors in rats and mice in the oral cavity and small intestine, places where cancer is rarely seen in laboratory animals.

Public awareness about the possible health effects of hexavalent chromium was heightened when residents of Hinkley, Calif., accused Pacific Gas & Electric of leaking the chemical into groundwater for more than 30 years. The company paid $333 million in damages in 1996 and pledged to clean up the contamination. The case was the basis for the movie "Erin Brockovich," which starred Julia Roberts.

But a recent California study found that cancer levels in Hinkley are not elevated. The California Cancer Registry's third study on the town, released this month, found that cancer rates remained unremarkable from 1988 to 2008. "People have been left with the impression from lawsuits and the movie that there is an excess of cancer in the community, but there is not," said John W. Morgan, the epidemiologist conducting the cancer studies. Still, Morgan said, no one should draw a conclusion from the Hinkley studies that hexavalent chromium poses no health risk. "That's not a question that our data can answer," he said.

Other experts, including Goldman, say because Hinkley's population is so small and exposure among residents to hexavalent chromium so varied, it is not unusual that Hinkley's cancer rate is comparable to other California towns.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, says the California goal is unrealistic because some water supplies have naturally occurring hexavalent chromium that is higher than .06 parts per billion.

In a written statement, the group's senior director, Ann Mason, said that "even the most sophisticated analytical methods used by EPA are not able to detect the extremely low levels that California wants to establish."

In her statement, she said that "given that hexavalent chromium exists naturally in groundwater, it is not surprising that it was found in 31 of the 35 sites selectively targeted, which had previously reported the existence of chromium."

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LA TIMES -- Tests Find High Chromium 6 Levels Throughout Los Angeles County



Report: Tap water was examined at 110 government facilities. Highest level was at Burbank Health Center, official says.

Tests of tap water at 110 Los Angeles County government facilities showed levels of chromium 6 at up to 8 parts per billion--more than 40 times the suggested limit, according to a study to be released today.

The tests recorded the highest level at the Burbank Health Center, 1101 W. Magnolia Blvd., said a county official who saw the report.

Other high readings were at the county library in Hacienda Heights, a daycare center in Palmdale and a county library in Rosemead, the official said.

Although there are no formal standards for chromium 6, it should not exceed 0.2 parts per billion in drinking water, according to the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which first proposed steps to cut levels of the chemical two years ago.

But substantial uncertainty exists over what the limit should be. And one high-ranking state health official said late Wednesday that people shouldn't be concerned about the findings of the county study.

"The people who are drinking the water that was tested should not be alarmed with these results," said Kevin Rielly, acting deputy for prevention programs at the state Department of Health Services.

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"I have not seen the report," he added. "We are conducting tests around the state to try to determine what the chromium 6 levels are in state drinking water supplies."

Chromium 6 was the chemical at the center of a famous pollution case in Hinkley, Calif., which was the basis for the film "Erin Brockovich."

Concentrations, in that case, were 24 parts per million, 3,000 times higher than the highest levels uncovered by county testing over the last few weeks.

Chromium 6, a byproduct of metal-plating and other industrial activities, is classified as a carcinogen when inhaled as particles or fumes.

Some scientists argue that it should not be present in water at all, while water officials insist that their water is safe because of insufficient scientific evidence linking chromium 6 in water to illnesses.

County officials tested tap water at more than 20 sites--including health clinics, courthouses, and fire stations--in each of the five supervisorial districts. On Wednesday, it was unknown how many of the 110 sites had water that tested above the proposed chromium 6 standard of 2.5 ppb and how many had water that tested below it.

The tests found the chemical present at levels of up to 7.84 ppb at Burbank Health Center, according to the official who saw the report. The official said chromium 6 levels of 4.99 to 7.65 ppb were found at the Hacienda Heights Library, 16010 La Monde St.; Palmdale Primary Care Center, 1529 E. Palmdale Blvd; Rosemead Library, 8800 Valley Blvd.; La Puente Health Center, 15930 Central Ave; and Alhambra Health Center, 1612 W. Shorb St.

County officials would not publicly comment on the report, citing a planned news conference on the issue.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who proposed the county tests following stories on chromium 6 in The Times, also declined to comment Wednesday.

But one official who saw the report said it noted that the high levels could have been a result of chemical treatment of the water with chlorine, which can elevate levels of chromium 6 (also known as hexavalent chromium).

The issue is complicated because the state doesn't have a current standard for chromium 6, but instead limits levels of total chromium as an indirect means of cutting chromium 6.

The state's current standard for total chromium is 50 ppb, and the federal standard is 100 ppb. The proposed new "public health goal" of 2.5 ppb is now being studied by the state health department. Standards Are Too Lax, Critics Say.

Although the county tap water that was tested falls within current allowable limits for chromium, critics say those standards are still too lax because some studies suggest that chromium 6 can cause cancer.

In the absence of a formal chromium 6 standard, the state hazard assessment office identified a safe level for drinking water of 0.2 parts per billion, said Alan Hirsch, an agency spokesman. At that level, he said, an estimated 1 million people could drink about 2 liters of water a day for 70 years--and only one would contract cancer resulting from exposure to chromium 6.

Chromium 6 concentrations above 0.2 ppb are in a "gray area," Hirsch said, declining to flatly call them unsafe.

Corine Li, the drinking water regional office chief for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, had no comment on the county report. But she said the agency was following the chromium testing being conducted in Los Angeles County.

"We continue to support the total chromium standard of 100 parts per billion for safe water," Li said. "We believe an additional collection of chromium 6 occurrence data would be useful to evaluate health effects from ingestion of the chemical."

State health officials would not comment on findings of the report, saying it was up to the health department to examine or discuss them, Hirsch said.

The Times reported Aug. 20 that the health department was still reviewing the hazard assessment office's recommendation to toughen chromium standards, more than two years after it was first proposed.

In response, legislation was passed and signed last week by Gov. Gray Davis. SB 2127 gives the state health department until January 2002 to assess the threat of chromium 6 statewide and report to the governor and Legislature. It also directs the agency to study the amount of chromium 6 in the San Fernando Valley aquifer, which is a major source of well water for Los Angeles and other cities but has been polluted for decades by industrial contamination.

Tests on Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wells in the Valley found levels of chromium 6 as high as 4.65 ppb, said Pankaj Parekh, the DWP's manager of regulatory compliance.

But Parekh and others say that water is blended and that chromium 6 levels in tap water are well below that found in the wells.

County officials tested tap water at 100 Los Angeles County offices for chromium 6. These six locations had the highest levels of the chemical, ranging from 5.5 parts per billion to 7.8 ppb. The accepted safety standard is 0.2 ppb.

Chromium 6

Facility Location level

Hacienda Heights Library 16010 La Monde

St. 7.69

Burbank Health Center 1101 W. Magnolia St. 7.84

Palmdale Primary

Care Center 1529 E. Palmdale Blvd. 6.62

Rosmead Library 8800 Valley Blvd.


La Puente Health Center 15930 Central Ave. 6.08

Alhambra 612 W. Shorb

St. 5.49

Health Center

San Fernando 919 1st St. 5.44

Valley Muncipal

Court, Monterey 201 Centre Plaza 5.19

North Valley Court 900 3rd St. 5.00

El Monte Library 3224 N. Tyler Ave. 4.99

Source: LA Times. Environmental Toxicology Labratory of the Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures Dept.

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