Is Chromium 6 Contaminating U.S. Public Water Systems?

Evidence of chromium 6 in public water systems has been making headlines. A recent report compiled by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research agency, stated that higher than recommended levels of chromium 6 was found in water being delivered to two-thirds of all Americans. While this information may come across as startling, it is important to note that these findings, in addition to an interactive map listed on their website, include chromium 6 testing for both treated and untreated water sources. What the map fails to state is that untreated water is never provided to public water agency customers; the water samples analyzed in the report include untreated, non-potable water. Consumers should research the consumer confidence report for their specific water agency to obtain accurate information on their water quality and not rely solely on the information provided on this map.

 What is chromium 6?

Hexavalent chromium or chromium 6 is a metallic element found naturally in water. It is odorless and tasteless. In lower concentrations, it likely appears in water naturally, however in larger concentrations, chromium 6 can be a result of pollution. According to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for determining what level of contaminants, such as chromium 6, in drinking water is safe for human consumption based on extensive testing, monitoring and research. The EPA creates enforceable drinking water standards for maximum contaminant levels (MCL). The MCL is the maximum allowable contaminant concentration, which a public water system can deliver to a customer. Currently, the safe MCL for chromium 6, according to the state of California is 10 parts per billion (ppb), the EPA standard is 100 ppb. Currently, California is the only state to regulate for chromium 6.

What are public health goals?

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, sets public health goals. These goals are based on concentrations that pose no significant health risks if consumed for an entire lifetime. These public health goals are utilized by public water agencies to provide customers with information about drinking water contaminants in their annual consumer confidence report. Public health goals are not regulatory standards, nor are they intended to be. They are a guideline for the State Water Resources Control Board when determining the appropriate MCL for a contaminant. To find out more information from your specific water agency on levels of chromium 6, visit their website and evaluate the consumer confidence report.

Where to find additional information on chromium 6

Drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate the water poses a health risk. More information about contaminants and potential health effects can be obtained by calling the U.S. EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or visit the EPA’s web site at www.epa.gov. Trace chemicals are measured in parts per million (ppm), which is the same as milligrams per liter (mg/L). Some constituents are measured in parts per billion (ppb). Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than the general population. Those who may be particularly at risk include cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, people with HIV-AIDS or other immune system disorders, as well as some elderly individuals and infants. These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers.