California Issues Standard for Erin Brockovich Chemical

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oakland, Calif. – The California Environmental Protection Agency has set a public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion for drinking water contamination with the carcinogenic compound hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6.

California’s move marks a first nationwide: neither the federal government nor any other state has established a safety limit for this common tap water pollutant.

“Environmental Working Group commends the agency for setting a goal designed to protect all Californians, even vulnerable infants, from the carcinogenic effects of this extremely potent toxicant,” said EWG Senior Scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D. “For years, many Californians have been drinking water contaminated with elevated levels of the carcinogen.”

The California Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 requires the California EPA to perform risk assessments and adopt goals for contaminants in drinking water based strictly on public health considerations, without regard to the costs of cleaning up the pollution. These goals do not have the force of law. They represent the first step in the process of establishing legal limits.

State legislation passed in 2001 (SB 351, Ortiz) set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2004, for a legal limit on chromium-6 in drinking water. Now that the non-binding goal has been set, the California Department of Public Health must move toward establishing a regulation with a legal limit. This regulation must take economic factors and technical challenges into account, so it is certain to be more lenient than the public health goal, a non-binding ideal.

California authorities have detected chromium-6 in 2,208 of more than 7,000 tap water systems analyzed as of 2008. These tests are relatively insensitive and do not measure pollution less than 1 ppb. About 10 percent of the samples had levels of 5 ppb or higher.

“The California Department of Public Health must take immediate action to establish a sound regulatory standard,” Sutton said. “We are already seven years late in protecting millions of Californians from chromium-6.”

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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.