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High Carcinogenic Chromium Levels Found in Many Cities' Tap Water

(Yet another environmental toxin in unacceptably high concentrations….)

An analysis of 35 U.S. cities’ tap water has found that 31 one of these water sources contain exceedingly high levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.The study is the first of its kind ever to be released to the public and comes, fortuitously, as the EPA is deciding whether to set safe drinking standards for hexavalent chromium in our tap water.

If the chemical name — also known as chromium 6 (Cr (VI))– sounds familiar, it’s probably because it was first made (in) famous in the movie Erin Brockovich. Just this past November, Hinkley, California, the town featured in the film (which is about 120 miles northeast of Los Angeles), made news again due to the continued spreading of an underground “plume” of chromium, which is contaminating the water supply.

The analysis was sponsored by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the results were officially released Monday but the news was quickly reported by the Washington Post and Yahoo News on Sunday, Dec. 19.

Quoting from the EWG’s report: “The highest levels were in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, Calif. In all, water samples from 25 cities contained the toxic metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators.”

If you want to know where your city or region stands regarding chromium levels, click on the map below (article continues):

Levels of Cr (VI) above 0.06 ppb (parts per billion) are considered carcinogenic. The study claims that 74 million in 42 states regularly drink tap water with high concentrations of chromium “much of it likely in the cancer-causing hexavalent form.”

Chromium, a hard metal element, gives many precious gems (like rubies) their color and is a main component of many synthetic pigments.  Chromium is valued because of its high corrosion resistance and hardness. Stainless steel is made highly resistant to discoloration/corrosion by adding chromium. Treating steel, along with chrome plating (electroplating with chromium), are currently the highest-volume uses of the metal.

World Chromium Production

Although trivalent chromium (Cr(III)) is required in trace amounts for carbohydrate and fat metabolism, in larger amounts (and/or different forms) chromium can be toxic and/or carcinogenic. Cr(VI), which has six valence electrons (making its bonding action extra strong), is the most common form of toxic chromium. Abandoned chromium production sites often require extensive environmental cleanup.

Read the entire report on the EWG website.

Top photo: M. Ricciardi

U.S. Map of Chromium Levels:  from the EWG website




4 comments
  1. Jonás

    I just realized that a coin water machine is installed near to my house, outside of a super market to be exact, I read that it has the filter required to filter chromium 6 (reverse osmosis filter), what I relief when I read that feature, I thought those machines had bad quality filters, but apparently not. 20 cents gallon, its a good price! and I am now safe!

  2. Michael R.

    Your risk from tap water (re: Cr(VI)) depends on several factors (where you live, for one, see chart), and other factors such as genetic history, health risks (alcohol, smoking, obesity, etc.). Rarely does one toxin directly cause cancer, except in high doses (or with infants). Still, this toxin is a public health risk, and the job of reporters and environmental scientists/regulators is to assess the risks, report them, and, if necessary, set safe limits to public exposure.

  3. Jonas Pereida

    Yeap.. I saw this article on TV few minutes ago… I drink so much tap water everyday =( I am sure now I got cancer… I am now so scared… this is horrible! cancer! oh no! I drank a lot of tap water today and yesterday… everyday… This is so sad… I am going to die! cancer!

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