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Cancer-causing ‘Erin Brockovich’ chemical found in 200 million Americans’ tap water

September 22, 2016

Julia Roberts fans will find this hard to swallow — the cancer-causing chemical that her “Erin Brockovich” character battled is in 218 million Americans’ tap water.

The real-life Brockovich famously confronted a power company that polluted Hinckley, California, taps with chromium-6 almost 25 years ago. The agent also said hexavalent chromium is produced by industrial processes like stainless steel production and coal-burning power plants. Drinking it gave lab rats and mice cancer during a two-year study by the National Toxicology Program.

The 2000 biographical film retelling Brockovich’s story netted Roberts a Best Actress Oscar, and made the chemical a household name. And now it’s also a household contaminant, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization.

The EWB analyzed federal data from nationwide drinking water tests between 2013 and 2015 as part of an Environmental Protection Agency program and found chromium-6 in the water supplies for more than two-thirds of Americans in all 50 states.

“I am not shocked by the findings of EWG’s report,” Brockovich wrote in a statement. “The public is looking down the barrel of a serious water crisis across the country that has been building for decades due to corruption, complacency and utter incompetence by our elected and appointed leaders, and it will take a groundswell of collective outrage by voters to turn this around.”

So, what is safe?

Problem is, scientists can’t agree at what level and length of exposure chromium-6 is dangerous. The EPA has a 25-year-old drinking water limit of 100 parts per billion for total chromium. This includes the chemicals chromium-6 and chromium-3. A representative told the Daily News in an email that “only one of the almost 5,000 public water systems that monitored total chromium reported results that exceeded the EPA’s standard.”

But that is too high in the EWB’s opinion, which aims for a fraction of that. It should be at no more than 0.02 chromium-6 parts per billion, as suggested by Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California. And the EWB report found more than 75% of federal water samples were at this level or higher.

The EPA responded it is actively working on a risk assessment of chromium-6 and will release a public report next year. “Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA,” the agency said in a statement. “The agency has taken many actions to improve information on chromium and its potential health risks in drinking tap water.”

The EWB is calling on the EPA and state regulators to set drinking water standards. They want to hold chromium-6 polluters accountable, and to make polluters help pay for cleaning up tap water.

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Article courtesy of Nicole Lyn Pesce for The NY Daily News.