Quantcast
Health

Cancer-Causing Chemical Found in Drinking Water of 218 Million Americans

By Bill Walker

Drinking water supplies for two-thirds of Americans are contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical made notorious by the film, Erin Brockovich, which was based on the real-life poisoning of tap water in a California desert town. But there are no national regulations for the compound—and the chemical industry is trying to keep it that way.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an analysis Tuesday of more than 60,000 tap water tests conducted nationwide, finding that chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is in the tap water of more than 218 million Americans. That's two-thirds of the U.S. being served water with chromium-6 at, or above, the level that California state scientists consider safe. The California public health goal allows a chromium-6 level expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in 1 million people who drink it for lifetime.

Interactive map of chromium-6 in U.S. drinking water shows an estimated 218 million Americans served unsafe levels of the chemical.Environmental Protection Agency, UCMR-3

Though far more permissive than its public health goal, California is the only state that has set an enforceable legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water. Federal chromium regulations, set in 1991, do not specifically address chromium-6 and do not consider current science showing that drinking water contaminated with the chemical can cause cancer.

Chromium is a naturally occurring element but can also be manufactured. The two main types are chromium-3—an essential human nutrient considered to be mostly harmless—and chromium-6, which has long been known to cause lung cancer when airborne particles are inhaled. Recent science has also shown that, when ingested, it can cause stomach cancer. Chromium-6 is used in chrome plating, wood and leather treatments, dyes and pigments, and the water in cooling towers of electrical power plants.

A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program found chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice. California state scientists drew on that study to determine its public health goal, which is unenforceable, but guided state regulators in setting a legal limit. Although EWG believes the legal limit is far too high to protect public health, it is the only enforceable regulation on chromium-6 in the U.S.

The National Toxicology Program study was also used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft a health assessment for a safe exposure level. The draft was completed in 2011, but not formally released because the chemical and electric power industries pressured the EPA to wait for the results of other, industry-funded studies. Five years later, we're still waiting for the industry studies, which are expected to argue that the EPA doesn't need to set a national standard at all. They're also expected to fundamentally challenge the way the EPA calculates the risk of all carcinogenic chemicals.

Will the EPA stand up to industry pressure? The agency's record is not good. Since landmark amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, the EPA has not set any new drinking water regulations for previously unregulated contaminants. The EPA has ordered tests on 81 contaminants, but moved forward on setting regulations for just one—and those regulations are two years behind schedule.

California's public health goal is 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 in drinking water, yet the state's legal limit is 500 times higher. A home water filter can remove chromium-6 and most other chemicals of concern, but can be expensive. Ultimately, the better solution is for federal regulators to set drinking water standards that keep up with advances in science and prevent dangerous contaminants from getting into tap water in the first place.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy. Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen.

Keep reading... Show less

Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.

Keep reading... Show less
Martin Schulz / Flickr

Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—"denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits near the Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. Greenpeacce

Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change, challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement, according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Male lion and lion cub in Zambia. Lip Kee / Flickr

Lion 'Trophy' Importation Ban Was Quietly Lifted by Trump Administration in October

By David Leestma

Last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFSW) began issuing hunting permits for the import of lion trophies hunted in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Although the USFSW announced Wednesday it was lifting a ban on the import of elephant trophies, the new guidelines for importing sport-hunted lions have been quietly in effect and permits have been accepted since Oct. 20. Due to a 45-day waiting period, it's unclear if any permits have been granted so far. The decision is touted as "contributing to the conservation of lions in the wild" on the USFSW website.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!