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Carcinogenic chromium found in Colorado drinking water

Carcinogenic chromium

(NaturalNews) According to a water quality report, Boulder, Colorado's drinking water contains high levels of chromium-6, a carcinogenic chemical linked to cancers of the liver, stomach and small intestine.

Limited research on the health effects of hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, has resulted in a lack of regulation preventing the chemical from entering into the public's water supply.

Hexavalent chromium is used industrially for making steel and textile dyes, wood preservation, the leather tanning process and making paints, inks and plastics. It's also used as an anticorrosive to preserve decorative coatings and primers. Chronic inhalation of this known human carcinogen greatly increases the risk of lung cancer and causes detrimental effects to the kidneys and intestines.

Little research has been conducted to understand the potential health effects of ingesting the chemical.

Industrial processes contaminate water supply

Water supplies containing chromium-6 are usually contaminated through runoff from industrial processes like finishing metal machinery, or rustproofing.

The current standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 100 parts per billion (ppb) on total chromium, which accounts for both chromium-3 and chromium-6 together. The agency combines the two because chromium can change between chromium-3 and chromium-6, depending on its environment. Chromium-3, or eskolaite, is a naturally occurring mineral used for pigment in paints, inks and glasses, and is often found naturally in soil and food.

"So because chromium-6 can become the benign chromium-3 in certain environments, and because one such environment is the human stomach, regulators treat both chromium states together when it comes to drinking water," reported Boulder Weekly.

Boulder's 2014 Water Quality Report found chromium-6 levels in the city's drinking water to range between 0.03 to 0.34 ppb, with the maximum of the range being more than five times higher than the 0.06 ppb public health standard set in California.

Erin Brockovich, a film released in 2000 starring Julia Roberts, depicts the true story of a legal clerk who, through an investigation, discovered a link between chromium-6 in the water supply and an increase in the number of tumor and cancer cases throughout Hinkley, California. Test results showed Hinkley to have chromium-6 concentrations ranging from 0.2 to 2.69 ppb.

A $333 million settlement, the largest in the country at the time, was won against the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for contaminating Hinkley's water supply with chromium-6. To date, the company has paid $315 million in claims to victims.

Today, California is the only state to have a public health goal (PHG) on chromium-6 in drinking water supplies; however, beginning in July, the state is expected to raise their limits on the chemical to 10 ppb, nearly 500 times higher than the original PHG of 0.02ppb.

The Environmental Working Group has "questioned the motives" behind raising the standard, warning that "24 million Californians would be exposed" to the potentially dangerous carcinogen.

"Ideally you want nothing," said Renee Sharp, Environmental Working Group director of research. "Chromium is known to be a carcinogen and creates a host of other health effects."

Sharp believes that the standard should be set to 1 ppb, a measure which she says is a "realistic goal."

For reasons unknown, Boulder's water contained higher levels of chromium-6 than nearby communities like Longmont, which registered at 0.035 and 0.061 ppb last year, and Lafayette, which measured at 0.00026 ppb.

Following a 2008 toxicity report by the Department of Health and Human Service's National Toxicology program, the EPA began a "rigorous and comprehensive review of the health effects of chromium-6."

While the health assessment is under review, the EPA is offering guidance to water utilities, educating them on how to monitor for chromium-6, in addition to the current monitoring that they're required to perform for total chromium levels.

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