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EPA Calls For Stricter Chromium Testing In Drinking Water

January 13, 2011

Following reports from an environmental group last month that showed drinking water in over 30 US cities contained too much of a potential carcinogen, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked communities from coast to coast to step up testing for the agent.

The substance in question is hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6. The chemical, which EPA testing has determined could cause cancer in humans who consume too much of it during their lives, first rose to national attention thanks to the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ and the real-life legal battle waged by the film’s namesake on behalf of a small California town.

Last month, the Environmental Working Group released a study which showed that tap water in 31 of 35 cities tested contained unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium. In response to those findings, the EPA has asked communities to collect and test samples more frequently as well as at a greater number of locations in their water distribution systems, Kim Carollo of ABC News reported on Wednesday.

“As we continue to learn more about the potential risks of exposure to chromium-6, we will work closely with states and local officials to ensure the safety of America’s drinking water supply,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told Carollo.

Currently, the EPA does not set a maximum level for chromium-6, a widely used industrial chemical until the 1990s. Instead, they limit the total amount of chromium permitted in drinking water to 100 parts per billion (ppb). Only one state, California, mandates testing specifically for hexavalent chromium, limiting it to 0.06 ppb. In the Environmental Working Group, 25 of the cities tested exceeded that level, with Norman, Oklahoma containing the highest levels of the substance at 12 ppb.

According to the AFP,” Hexavalent chromium has long been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled, and scientists recently found evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals when ingested. It has been linked to liver and kidney damage in animals, as well as leukemia, stomach cancer and other cancers”¦ [it] is still used in some industries, including chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.”

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