(NaturalHealth365) The movie “Erin Brockovich” tells the gripping true story of one woman who successfully battled the Pacific Gas and Electric Company over the presence of a carcinogenic chemical (hexavalent chromium) in the drinking water of a small California town. Erin Brockovich became a household name, and Julia Roberts, the actress who portrayed her, won an Academy Award.
But real life doesn’t always hang together so neatly, and the story doesn’t end there.
Now, the chemical made notorious by the film has been found in tap water – and its presence is widespread throughout the United States. On September 20, the Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, released an analysis of over 60,000 tap water tests conducted throughout the nation, and the results are frightening – chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is in the tap water of 218 million Americans.
What’s the big deal about hexavalent chromium? Isn’t chromium a nutrient, and even sold as a supplement at health food stores?
Chromium, which occurs naturally in rocks, plants, animals, soil and volcanic dust and gases, has two primary forms. Chromium-3, or trivalent chromium, is a trace mineral and a nutrient considered to be mostly harmless. Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is produced exclusively by certain industrial processes – including electroplating and leather tanning treatments. It’s also included in some dyes and pigments, as well as being utilized to lower the temperature of water in the cooling towers of electrical plants.
Chromium-6 has long been known to be carcinogenic, causing lung cancer when airborne particles are inhaled. As in the case of exposure to other heavy metals and toxins, children, infants and developing fetuses are most at risk. A 2008 animal study by the National Toxicology Program found chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer; there is also evidence that it can cause stomach cancer when ingested.
Because of the compound’s carcinogenic properties, The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets strict limits for airborne chromium-6 in the workplace. But it’s a different story when it comes to drinking water. Unbelievably, although the EPA sets a limit for chromium in drinking water – 100 parts per billion, or ppb – laws do not exist for chromium-6.
The nation’s only state legal limit on chromium-6 is woefully inadequate
California is the only state in the union that has an enforceable legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water, but health advocates say the 10 ppb limit is far too high to protect public health. (The state limit is not to be confused with California’s “public health goal” level of 0.02 ppb; at this level, chromium-6 in water is expected to pose only negligible risk, even after drinking it for a lifetime. However, the EWG points out that the state’s legal limit is 500 times higher than the “public health goal” – quite a stretch!)
The disturbing truth is that federal chromium regulations for drinking water were established in 1991, and don’t address chromium-6 at all – or acknowledge the current research showing that chromium-contaminated water is carcinogenic.
So, although there were amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, there aren’t any new regulations for previously unregulated contaminants in drinking water. In other words, toxins such as chromium-6 have been “grandfathered in” – at least as the situation currently stands.
And although tests have been ordered on 81 different new contaminants, so far regulations have been set for exactly one of them – and this, two years behind schedule.
The EPA continues to drag its feet on health assessment
In 2011, the EPA drafted a health assessment for safe levels of chromium-6, but it was never formally released. The EWG maintains that this was due to pressure by the chemical and electric power industries, who urged the EPA to wait for the results of other industry-funded studies.
These studies, of course, have yet to materialize.
And when they do, insiders say that they are expected to argue that the EPA should set no national standard at all – and also to challenge the way the EPA assesses the risk of all carcinogenic chemicals. As for the EPA’s health assessment, it is now scheduled for release in 2017 – but nobody is holding their breath.
To find out levels of hexavalent chromium in your drinking water, you can link to this interactive map – which shows levels as reported by the EPA from tests performed on its behalf by local water utilities.
If you are among the 218 million Americans with chromium-6 in their tap water, natural health experts recommend the use of a Berkey water filter to remove it. Berkey filters have been shown to remove hexavalent chromium to the highest levels the equipment was able to read, meaning tests showed that 99.8 percent of chromium-6 was removed (the actual removal percentage could be even higher.)
Editor’s note: Click here to order your berkey water filter today and, yes, your purchase does help to support our operations here at NaturalHealth365 – at no extra cost to you.
Erin Brockovich, the first person to sound the alarm on chromium-6, has spoken out on the new EWG findings. “Whether it is chromium-6, PFOA or lead, the public is looking down the barrel of a serious water crisis across the country that has been building for decades,” Brockovich said. The causes for the crisis, Brockovich maintained, are “corruption, complacency and utter laziness.”
In other words, it’s 1993 all over again. Haven’t we learned anything yet?
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