California Proposes 10 ppb Safe Water Standard for Chromium-6

(Image courtesy of EPA Water Office)

Chromium-6, the chemical made famous by Erin Brockovich’s investigations in Hinkley, California, was back in the news today. California has taken the lead nationally in studying and moving toward limits on Cr-6, and today proposed an official safe water standard for its concentration in drinking water. But some environmentalists and clean water advocates aren’t likely to be happy with the proposed limit.

For general background on Cr-6 read: What Every American Should Know About Chromium-6

Despite numerous studies showing Cr-6 to be a carcinogen, and samples indicating that it occurs in high concentrations in some U.S. water supplies, there is no federal or state limit on the chemical in drinking water. The EPA has set a safe limit on total chromium, which includes the fairly benign and more common variety, Chromium-3. A different California agency previously set a public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) of Cr-6, an ambitious mark that about a third of all sampled water sources in the state failed between 2000 and 2011. Now, citing the extreme cost of hitting this low of a limit statewide, California has proposed an official limit of 10 ppb.

The new proposed limit is 500x the original public health goal, but would still be a first for specific management of Cr-6. The current limit for total chromium (again, including Cr-3) in California is 50 ppb, so even if it isn’t as low as some of us would have hoped, this is a significant tightening of regulations in areas where chromium contamination is high.

Daron Banks, a member of Hinkley’s community advisory board, told the San Bernadino Sun newspaper “This is at least much better than what we had,” but that he would have preferred a number closer to the public health goal.

The proposed limit will open for comment on Friday at noon, and I would urge all Californians to make their opinions known. Directions on how to comment are listed on this California Department of Public Health page. The specific rule change code is DPH-11-005, which you’ll need to make sure your comment goes to the right place.

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