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California Moves to Protect Public from Notorious Carcinogen

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, January 3, 2011

Oakland, Calif. -- For years, California officials have been working to set the nation's first-ever safety standard for the carcinogenic metal hexavalent chromium (chromium-6), commonly found in the state's drinking water. Last week (Dec. 31), after specifically evaluating the pollutant’s threat to infants, public health officials sharply lowered their proposed “public health goal” to 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) of chromium-6 in drinking water.

The decision is consistent with the position of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which had jointly urged California regulators to focus on the risk to infants and other vulnerable groups.

“One day soon, as a result of this action, California's families could find their drinking water with far less of this dangerous carcinogen,” said Ken Cook, EWG’s president and co-founder. “Industry influence has allowed this contaminant to remain in much of the state's water for years, endangering millions, especially infants fed powdered formula mixed with tap water.”

According to a number of surveys, more than half of all infants born in the U.S. are bottle-fed with formula, which often comes in powdered form that must be reconstituted with water.

In November 2009, EWG and NRDC urged the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to lower its original proposed public health goal of 0.06 ppb for chromium-6 in drinking water. Once the goal has been determined, it will become the basis for setting a mandatory limit.

“The proposal falls short in addressing the issue of sensitive populations and ensuring their adequate protection,” wrote Renee Sharp, director of EWG’s California office, and Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with NRDC. Their letter can be found here: http://static.ewg.org/pdf/Chrom-6-Cal-letter.pdf

Last month (Dec. 20, 2010), EWG released a study that found chromium-6 in the tap water of 31 of 35 U.S. cities tested, including three California communities. Two days later, following a closed-door meeting with 10 U.S. senators concerned about EWG’s report, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson unveiled a four-point plan to help local water utilities across the country test for the contaminant and pledged to move quickly to set a nationwide safety standard.

Praising EPA’s prompt response, Cook added, “The Obama administration should use California as a model and move quickly to give every state, city and community in the nation the same safeguards against this dangerous chemical.”

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org