Saturday, September 24, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 8:00 p.m.
A new report published last week by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that millions of Americans use tap water that contains hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, which studies have shown may increase the risk of certain types of cancers and other diseases.
Among those millions are residents of Maywood, Bellwood and Melrose Park, whose water systems, the EWG’s tests indicate, have levels of the toxin ranging between 600 percent and more than 1,000 percent higher than the level considered safe by California public health officials.
In California, which is the only state to set a legal limit for the toxin, the proposed public health goal is 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) — “the amount posing no more than a one-in-a-million risk of cancer for people who drink it daily for 70 years,” the EWG notes. The state’s legal limit, however, is much higher at 10 ppb.
The EWG’s chromium-6 testing, conducted between 2013 and 2015, showed that the level at which the toxin was detected in samples ranged from 0.18 to 0.23 ppb in Maywood, from 0.14 to 0.20 ppb in Melrose Park and 0.17 to 0.23 ppb in Bellwood. Broadview wasn’t listed among the water systems included in EWG’s testing from 2013-15.
The level at which the toxin was detected in samples across Cook County ranged from no detection at all to 1.00 ppb. The average level county-wide was 0.188.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a maximum level of exposure for chromium-6 at 100 ppb. In Illinois, according to a Patch analysis of the EWG report, “none of the 162 systems tested in Cook, DuPage, Will, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Kendall counties reached that level, nor even came close. But only 22 of the tested systems showed no trace of chromium-6.”
Chromium-6 was made famous in the popular 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich,” based on the unemployed single mother who takes on an electric utility company after learning that chromium-6 has contaminated the groundwater of Hinkley, Calif. residents.
In a recent statement, the EWG cited a two-year study by the National Toxicology Program that showed a correlation between chromium-6 in drinking waters and cases of cancer in lab rats and mice.
“Based on this and other animal studies, in 2010, scientists at the respected and influential California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded that ingestion of tiny amounts of chromium-6 can cause cancer in people, a conclusion affirmed by state scientists in New Jersey and North Carolina,” the EWG notes.
Chromium-6, according to the EWG, is a “naturally occurring compound and an essential human nutrient. Chromium-6 also occurs naturally, but is manufactured for use in steel making, chrome plating, manufacturing dyes and pigments, preserving leather and wood and, as in the Brockovich case, lowering the temperature of water in the cooling towers of electrical power plants.
“Chromium-6 is also in the ash from coal-burning power plants, which is typically dumped in unlined pits that a 2011 report by the nonprofit Earthjustice said may threaten hundreds or thousands of water supplies and private wells.”
Due in large part to lobbying efforts by big energy companies, among other commercial interests, chromium-6 remains unregulated by the U.S. EPA despite its known harms. Big companies have also funded massive PR efforts to discredit the link between chromium-6 and cancer.
The EWG has initiated an online petition to push the EPA to regulate the presence of what’s called the Erin Brockovich chemical in the country’s tap water supply. You can access it here. VFP