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California Standard Leaves Millions Unprotected from Known Carcinogen

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Friday, August 23, 2013

Washington, D.C. – California’s proposed drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, will leave 22 million residents unprotected from the known carcinogen made famous by the Erin Brockovich movie, according to an Environmental Working Group review of the proposal.  

“California missed an important opportunity to protect public health with its announcement of its proposed legal limit for chromium-6 in tap water,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research. “This standard falls short of an adequate limit to reduce the public’s exposure to elevated levels of this carcinogen.”

Hexavalent chromium, which is used for the production of stainless steel, textile dyes, wood preservation and leather tanning, and as an anti-corrosive agent, contaminates drinking water. 

More than 1000 drinking water systems across California have this contamination in their water but would not have to clean it up under this standard, leaving 22 million people at elevated risk, according to EWG’s review. Only 29 water systems, serving about 5 million people, would see any of their water sources cleaned up

The draft standard of 10 parts per billion is 500 times higher than the California Public Health Goal of 0.02 parts per billion (ppb), which is the level of chromium-6 in tap water that state public health officials have estimated to pose no significant health risk. 

Chromium-6 has long been recognized as a potent carcinogen when inhaled, but there is now sufficient evidence that it is also carcinogenic through oral exposure, according to state public health officials. 

Despite the mounting cancer concerns, neither the state nor the federal government has ever set a legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water. A proposed standard was expected in California in January of 2004, but state leaders failed to produce one. 

Last year, EWG and National Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the state for its inaction. On July 18, the California Superior Court of Alameda directed the state Department of Public Health to propose a standard by the end of August 2013. Once the public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal, the court will then decide whether additional or further deadlines are needed. 

If finalized, California would go down in history as the first state to adopt such a standard. 

“Unfortunately, it looks like the history books may instead mark how the state failed to protect its residents once again from chromium-6,” said Sharp. “The state continues to display its lack of leadership. After nine years of missing deadlines to establish a drinking water standard for chromium-6, it is simply unacceptable for the state to propose a standard that will leave so many of its residents at risk from developing cancer to this known carcinogen.” 


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