On Tuesday, August 14, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Public Health. The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, asks the agency to obey its requirement to limit the level of hexavalent chromium, a chemical carcinogen, in California’s drinking water.
In 2001, a state law required the agency to set a limit for the chemical by 2004. More than a decade after the law took effect, the agency has not met the requirement. The lawsuit alleges that there is no justifiable reason for the delay and seeks a court order to expedite the process.
Chromium-6 Linked to Serious Health Risks
Hexavalent chromium, also called chromium-6, is a known carcinogen. Chromium-6 frequently enters drinking water supplies due to runoff from industrial operations that seeps into groundwater. The chemical is used for the production of textile dyes and stainless steel. It is also used for leather tanning and as an anti-corrosive.
Although chromium-6 has been long recognized to be carcinogenic when inhaled, a representative of California’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that the process had been delayed due to a dispute about the chemical’s carcinogenic effects when ingested in water. In 2007, scientists at the National Toxicology Program confirmed that the chemical is carcinogenic when ingested.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ingesting large amounts of chromium-6 leads to vomiting, hemorrhage and abdominal pain. It has also been found to damage livers, gastrointestinal tracts and lymph nodes of animals. Breathing the chemical can lead to respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma and lung cancer.
California Cities Top List in Chromium-6 Contamination
Chromium-6 became famous in the film “Erin Brockovich,” which depicted the environmental activist’s attempt to build a legal case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), linking the chemical to a heightened cancer risk. In her lawsuit against PG&E, she alleged that one of their facilities produced toxic wastewater that seeped into the groundwater and contaminated the drinking water in the town of Hinkley, California. The lawsuit, filed in 1993, resulted in a $333 million settlement. This amount was the largest ever paid in a settlement from a direct-action lawsuit in this country’s history.
In 2010, the Environmental Working Group tested the tap water in various cities throughout the U.S. and detected chromium-6 in the tap water in 31 cities. The California cities of San Jose and Riverside, with levels exceeding 1.3 parts per billion, had among the top most contaminated water sources in the country.
In 2011, the state’s Environmental Protection Agency had recommended that California limit the chemical to .02 parts per billion in drinking water. Water testing conducted throughout California between 2000 and 2011 showed that approximately one-third of the drinking water tested had levels at or above the recommended limit.
Proposed Standards to be Released Next Year
Currently there is no federal standard for chromium-6 levels, although the federal EPA has recommended that the chemical be subjected to enhanced monitoring in public water systems.
According to Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, there are no typical timelines to suggest how long it takes to develop such a standard. August reported that the agency is in the process of developing a cost-benefit analysis. The department’s website states that the standard will be released next year and finalized by July 2015. The department’s standard will be as close to the California EPA’s goal as possible, after economic and technical factors are taken into consideration.
Kenny Schmitt is a blogger passionate about environmental issues. He knows that it’s important to protect yourself when a victim of injury or health issues.