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Possible Carcinogen Found In U.S. Drinking Water

December 20, 2010

Hexavalent chromium–a substance dubbed a “probable carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program–has been found in the drinking water of 31 U.S. cities, according to a Sunday report by the Washington Post.

The substance, which Washington Post Staff Writer Lyndsey Layton notes entered the public consciousness as a result of the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’, has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. The discovery was made by the Washington D.C. based Environmental Working Group, which tested water from 35 cities and discovered hexavalent chromium in all but four of them.

According to Layton, the report “comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to set a limit for hexavalent chromium in tap water”¦ Last year, California took the first step in limiting the amount of hexavalent chromium in drinking water by proposing a ‘public health goal’ for safe levels of 0.06 parts per billion. If California does set a limit, it would be the first in the nation.”

Twenty five of the 31 positive tests would have surpassed the proposed California limits, the Washington Post reported, with the highest levels coming from Norman, Oklahoma. That city’s water contained “more than 200 times” the West Cost state’s limits, Layton said.

Inhaled Hexavalent chromium has been linked to lung cancer, according to AFP reports, and a correlation between ingestion of the industrial chemical and liver damage, kidney damage, leukemia, and stomach cancer have all be observed by scientists. The chemical was widely used until about 20 years ago and is still utilized in plastics and dye manufacturing.

“This chemical has been so widely used by so many industries across the U.S. that this doesn’t surprise me,” the real-life Erin Brockovich, whose battles against a company accused of leaking the substance into a California town’s groundwater supply served as the basis for the 2000 motion picture, told Layton.

“Our municipal water supplies are in danger all over the U.S.” she added. “This is a chemical that should be regulated.”

The EPA is currently looking to create a universal, nationwide standard to govern the amount of the chemical allowed in drinking water, but according to Ken Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group, water utilities are against the idea–and with good reason.

“It’s not their fault. They didn’t cause the contamination. But if a limit is set, it’s going to be extraordinarily expensive for them to clean this up,” Cook told the Washington Post. “The problem in all of this is that we lose sight of the water drinkers, of the people at the end of the tap”¦ The real focus has to be on public health.”

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