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Cancer-causing chemical found in drinking water of 31 U.S. cities

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“I was expecting to find hexavalent chromium in some of the cities we checked, but I didn’t expect it to be so widespread,” said Rebecca Sutton, lead author of the study.

By Eartheasy Posted Dec 21, 2010

Study results released today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) report that hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich,” has been detected in the tap water of 31 of the 35 U.S. cities tested.

The highest levels were in Norman, Oklahoma, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Riverside, Calif. In all, water samples from 25 cities contained the toxic metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators.

The cities tested are:
Norman, Okla. – 12.9 ppb
Honolulu, Hi. – 2.00 ppb
Riverside, Calif. – 1.69 ppb
Madison, Wis. – 1.58 ppb
San Jose, Calif. – 1.34 ppb
Tallahassee, Fla. – 1.25 ppb
Omaha, Neb. – 1.07 ppb
Albuquerque, N.M. – 1.04 ppb
Pittsburgh, Pa. – 0.88 ppb
Bend, Ore. – 0.78 ppb
Salt Lake City, Utah – 0.30 ppb
Ann Arbor, Mich. – 0.21 ppb
Atlanta, Ga. – 0.20 ppb
Los Angeles, Calif. – 0.20 ppb
Bethesda, Md. – 0.19 ppb
Phoenix, Ariz. – 0.19 ppb
Washington, D.C – 0.19 ppb
Chicago, Ill. – 0.18 ppb
Milwaukee, Wis. – 0.18 ppb
Villanova, Pa. – 0.18 ppb
Sacramento, Calif. – 0.16 ppb
Louisville, Ky. – 0.14 ppb
Syracuse, N.Y. – 0.12 ppb
New Haven, Conn. – 0.08 ppb
Buffalo, N.Y. – 0.07 ppb
Las Vegas, Nev. – 0.06 ppb
New York, N.Y. – 0.06 ppb
Scottsdale, Ariz. – 0.05 ppb
Miami, Fla. – 0.04 ppb
Boston, Mass. – 0.03 ppb
Cincinnati, Ohio – 0.03 ppb

According to the EPA, hexavalent chromium is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Yet, EWG reports, “Despite mounting evidence of its toxic effects, the EPA has not set a legal limit for hexavalent chromium in tap water nationally and does not require water utilities to test for it.”

The National Toxicology Program has said that chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) in drinking water shows “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity.”

The EWG states that the total number of Americans drinking tap water contaminated with this compound is likely far higher than is indicated by EWG’s tests. At least 74 million people in nearly 7,000 communities drink tap water polluted with “total chromium,” which includes hexavalent and other forms of the metal, according to EWG’s 2009 analysis of water utility tests from 48,000 communities in 42 states (EWG 2009).

At least 74 million people in nearly 7,000 communities drink tap water polluted with “total chromium,” which includes hexavalent and other forms of the metal.

“I was expecting to find hexavalent chromium in some of the cities we checked, but I didn’t expect it to be so widespread,” said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group and the lead author of the study.

Sutton said there is a well-documented corollary between exposure to chromium-6 and a greater risk of stomach cancer in humans. Additionally, there is ample animal evidence showing a broad risk of gastrointestinal tumors in rats and mice exposed to the toxin, she said.
Drinking bottled water in place of tap water does not guarantee you’ll be protected.

“Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water,” said Sutton. “We just don’t have any guarantee that hexavalent chromium isn’t in that water.”

So how can you protect yourself? Sutton says your best bet is buying an reverse osmosis water filter certified to remove this contaminant.

So how can you protect yourself? Sutton says your best bet is buying an reverse osmosis water filter certified to remove this contaminant.

“Getting the water filter is a great way to protect yourself and your family,” says Sutton. “It’s a step you can take yourself; you don’t have to wait for government action.”

Samples from the test provided a “one-time snapshot” of water systems that serve 26 million people, the Environmental Working Group said. But the organization said the results show that more federal regulation of the cancer-causing chemical is needed.

Brendan Gilfillan, an EPA spokesman, said that the agency was aware of the new study by the Environmental Working Group and that the findings will be considered as the agency reviews total chromium in drinking water, work that is expected to be completed next year.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that water utilities across the country are resistant to additional regulation.

“It’s not their fault. They didn’t cause the contamination. But if a limit is set, it’s going to be extraordinarily expensive for them to clean this up,” Cook said. “The problem in all of this is that we lose sight of the water drinkers, of the people at the end of the tap. There is tremendous push-back from polluters and from water utilities. The real focus has to be on public health.”

The report is available at www.ewg.org

Posted in Food and Health Tags , , ,
  • liberty

    This article needs more information. I want to know what kind of filter screens this out, for example.

    • http://www.eartheasy.com/blog/ Aran Seaman

      Hi Liberty,

      If your tap water contains high levels, your best bet is to install a reverse osmosis water filter certified to remove this contaminant. Reverse osmosis filters, especially when combined with superior carbon filter technology, are best for ridding tap water of the largest number of contaminants possible. EWG provides a list of reverse osmosis water filters certified to remove hexavalent chromium and available for purchase on Amazon:
      http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/getawaterfilter?tech

  • Guest

    Where can we find a water filter that will remove the Hexavalent Chromium? i can't believe we've been drinking this all these years.

    Thanks for publishing this article!

  • eric

    Now that it has been determined there are contaminations in the water they should investigate to determine who is causing it. Purchasing a water filter may help but it doesn't get to the source of the problem.

  • cristie

    I find it disturbing that water districts don't want to test for this chemical. And many states are left out of the study.

  • rmayall

    If you think our water is contamination is widespread now, just wait until hydrolic fracturing for natural gas expands it's well footprint across the nation.

  • Sal

    fyi:
    Levels of hexavalent chromium (Cr-6) above 0.06 ppb (parts per billion) are considered carcinogenic. However, trivalent chromium (Cr-3) is required in trace amounts for carbohydrate and fat metabolism.

    • Greg Seaman

      Sal, thanks for your input. The 0.06 ppb is California's goal for acceptable levels of chromium-6, but chemists I have spoken with say this is an extreme level of safety and not realistic to achieve nationwide. On the other hand, a level of 12.9 as seen in Norman, Oklahoma is something to be concerned about.
      Residents need to do their own math on this issue. We advise concerned people to contact their water utility and see if figures are available for chromium-6 in the water. Look to where these figures fall within the range of results in the list of cities stated in the article above. Our sources tell us that in most cases municipal water supplies are at acceptable safe levels, and the results of this new study have alerted the EPA to further study Chromium-6 levels for safety in drinking water.

      • Online Business OH

        I don't know the numbers, but it is a well known fact that municipal waters supplies contain high amounts of fluoride, and it has be proven that fluoride causes the brain to retain trace metals; excessive trace metals in the brain have been found to be one of the suspected causes of Alzheimer's.

        There's a lot more going on with more than just our water in this country.

  • dzar

    that is, the quality of water in the world is bad…

  • http://bangkokcurtains.wordpress.com/ ผ้าม่าน

    I live in Bangkok, Thailand. Chromium is the last thing we worry about from our tap water here, nobody drinks from tap water here, it is completely unhygienic. I usually drink bottled water, not sure if its any better :(

  • reviews

    use reverse osmosis filtration system

  • http://blog.malaysia-asia.my David @MalaysiaAsia

    Ugh… and I wonder how our waters fare in Malaysia. All my life I've been drinking from the tap here and my body's gotten used to it. I recently did a full medical check up and everything is fine. And yes, I use a much better quality basic water filter too. Funny thing is when tourist come to Malaysia, they are trying out local drinks where ice is made from tap water. So far, so good.

  • joepierce

    Where can we find a water filter that will remove the Hexavalent Chromium? i can't believe we've been drinking this all these years.

    • Greg Seaman

      Amazon sells reverse osmosis water filters. Or you can go the ewg.org link at the end of this article and see the list they have for recommended water filters.

  • Ann

    THis is appalling! I have done everything I can to get rid of the bottled water addiction that friends and family have. Thanks to your information I'll look into a reverse osmosis system.

  • http://www.marksrosenberg.com Waterproofing PA

    I think we have to make use of RO water purifiers in our homes in order to overcome from this problem otherwise we may come under the affect of this chemical.

  • http://www.alsosprachanalyst.com Zarathustra

    That is appalling. But sometimes we can't hide and prevent everything.

  • nicole

    this is outrageous i just cant belive whats been put in our bodys the most simplest thing like water can be bad for you Smh

  • mytocents

    I think if the gov. dont step in that this issue will not be getting better. I would like to see a tax credit on all water treatment systems bought. That way at least we could start a program that will bring it to the attion of the home owners and let them know how bad it really is. Atleast that is mytocents.

  • Lori

    I have heard about this recently and buy reverse osmosis water at our grocery story (whole foods & natures corner market) I bring my own gallon containers and fill them up for $.60 each. I fill 8/week. The water tastes so much better and we all are drinking more water. A full house reverse osmosis system was too overwhelming for me right now :) But I like the convenience of the gallons containers in the fridge.

  • SolarKart

    This is nuts. All those bottles with the words “Natural” ect and they are probaly full of this **** !
    so does the ewg have a stake in the company that produces those reverse osmois filters?

  • BIAP

    Hexavalent chromium could be released from tannery when leather is produced, polluted water contains about 5ppm water soluble Chromium. Hexavalent chromium can also be toxic if such leather products are used, for that reason the german goverment wants restriction of leather products from China
    In this moment I agree it is probably the best protection to use reverse osmosis.

  • Henrick

    There are more toxins from our water than ever before. I think the city is becoming an unsafe place to live.
    Henrick, Adelaide web startup expert

  • Ken

    Contamination by pollutanst like hexavalent and other forms of the metal are very dangerous for our body. Water is essential need for millions of people. I think that just buying an reverse osmosis water filter certified to remove this contaminant was not enough. My reason is not all people can buy with money.

  • http://pcprimaerfahrungen.de/2011/01/20/schneller-schutz-dank-pc-prima/ pcprima

    I remember that I get a water analysis from our town every year, so my question is do town tests for this or is this something that is not usually tested for

    • Greg Seaman

      Water utilities are not required to test for hexavalent chromium. You should be able check your annual water analysis to see if your local water utility tests or reports results for hexavalent chromium.

  • sporina

    tap water has long been dangerous to humans. shudder to think what germs are found there. you need to drink water from artesian wells.

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