Hexavalent Chromium: Tap Water Industry Knew About Brockovich Chemical For Years, Reports EWG

The tap water industry has known since 2004 about worrisome levels of a suspected carcinogen in America's drinking water, claims Environmental Working Group (EWG).

EWG reported a few months ago that laboratory tests found high levels of suspected carcinogen chromium-6 in the drinking water of 31 U.S. cities. Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; Riverside, California; and Madison, Wisconsin reported the highest levels of contamination. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson responded quickly to the report, launching a risk assessment of the chemical found in drinking water.

The chemical, also known as “hexavalent chromium,” became well known after renowned legal assistant Erin Brockovich won a settlement against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The company allegedly dumped the chemical into the local water of Hinkley, CA. After the EWG report on the cities with high levels of chromium-6, Brockovich told The New York Times, "It may be more widespread than I had even thought and I had thought it was pretty widespread."

While EWG’s report came out just a few months ago, it turns out that the tap water industry may have found clear evidence of chromium-6 pollution in untreated water back in 2004 (although pollution levels in untreated and treated water cannot be directly compared). EWG claims that the industry’s survey, conducted by the Awwa Research Foundation, studied data on 189 utilities in 41 states, and concluded that chromium-6 was common in American groundwater.

According to EWG:

The industry research group provides its report Occurrence Survey of Boron and Hexavalent Chromium to water utilities and their consultants, who pay four or five-figure subscription fees and a document fee of about $300. (The report can now be bought online for $200 or more.)

The 2004 industry study was obtained by EWG. Jane Houlihan, EWG senior vice president for research, states, “The tap water industry’s 2004 study is unmistakable proof that it has known about extensive chromium-6 contamination for at least seven years.” Yet, EWG reports that tap water industry representatives did not mention their study during the February 2nd Senate environment committee hearing on chromium-6 pollution. According to EWG, it does not appear that the customers of the utilities with tainted water were notified of the chemical’s presence.

Erin Brokovich is sadly unsurprised by the utilities’ silence. She tells EWG, “Instead of treating their customers like adults and sharing the test results with them, they shelved the findings, letting folks continue to drink water for years that could contain chromium-6.”