For Immediate Release
Tests Show Notorious Carcinogen is Widespread in US Tap Water
OAKLAND, Calif. - Millions of Americans are drinking water contaminated with the
carcinogenic chemical that came to national attention in the 2000
feature film Erin Brockovich. Laboratory tests commissioned by
Environmental Working Group (EWG) found hexavalent chromium, or
chromium-6, in the drinking water of 31 of 35 selected U.S. cities.
Among those with the highest levels were Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and
Despite mounting evidence of the contaminant's toxic effects, the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set a legal limit for
chromium-6 in tap water and does not require water utilities to test
for it. Hexavalent chromium is commonly discharged from steel and pulp
mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities. It can
also pollute water through erosion of natural deposits.
The authoritative National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services has said that chromium-6 in
drinking water shows "clear evidence of carcinogenic activity" in
laboratory animals, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal tumors. Just
last October, a draft review by the EPA similarly found that ingesting
the chemical in tap water is "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."
Other health risks associated with exposure include liver and kidney
damage, anemia and ulcers.
In response to the NTP study and others, California last year became
the first state to propose setting a public health goal for chromium-6
in drinking water of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) - setting the stage
for establishing a statewide enforceable limit.
The hazards of chromium-6 contamination first came to light in 1993,
when Brockovich helped build a now-famous class action lawsuit against
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) for polluting the water supply
of Hinkley, Calif. The suit eventually led to a $333 million settlement.
"Every single day, pregnant mothers in Norman, Oklahoma, school
children in Madison, Wisconsin, and many other Americans are drinking
water laced with this cancer-causing chemical," said EWG senior
scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D. "If the EPA required local water
utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, the public would at least
know if it was present in their local water. Without mandatory tests and
a safe legal limit that all utilities must meet, many of us will
continue to swallow some quantity of this carcinogen every day."
"It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the
public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23
years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm," said
Brockovich. "This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health
risks that millions of Americans still face because of water
In 25 cities tested by EWG, concentrations of chromium-6 in tap water
were higher than California's proposed public health limit. In Norman,
Okla. (population 90,000), the level was more than 200 times the state's
proposed safe level.
EWG's investigation is the broadest publicly available survey of
hexavalent chromium contamination of drinking water to date. The 31
cities shown to have chromium-polluted tap water draw from utilities
that collectively serve more than 26 million people. In California, the
only state that requires testing for chromium-6, utilities have reported
detecting the compound in tap water supplied to more than 31 million
people, according to an EWG analysis of data from the state water
Concerned consumers can dramatically reduce the amount of the
chemical in their drinking water by investing in a reverse osmosis
filtration system for the home. There is no legal limit for hexavalent
chromium in bottled water either, so consumers cannot assume it is free
of the contaminant.
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The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.