Boxer-Feinstein Bill Would Force EPA to Limit Chromium-6 in Tap Water

WASHINGTON, DC, January 27, 2011 (ENS) – Not enough is being done to protect the public from tap water that contains hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, which can present a cancer risk to humans, say two Senate Democrats.

So on Wednesday, Senator Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, introduced a bill that would establish a deadline for the U.S. EPA to set an enforceable drinking water safeguard for hexavalent chromium.

Senator Feinstein said, “It’s vital that the Environmental Protection Agency continues to move forward to protect the American public from unsafe levels of chromium-6 in our drinking water. I’m pleased to team up with Senator Boxer in introducing legislation that will ensure the EPA acts in a timely, responsible manner.”

Senator Boxer said, “There is no place for dangerous cancer causing substances in our drinking water. This bill is a major step forward in ensuring that children in California, and across the country, are protected from toxic chemicals, such as chromium-6, in the drinking water supply.”

Senator Boxer also announced that her committee plans an oversight hearing on the issue of chromium-6 in drinking water next Wednesday, February 2.

A study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group published December 20 found hexavalent chromium in the drinking water of 31 cities across the country. The water utilities surveyed by the Environmental Working Group serve more than 26 million Americans.

Woman drinking tap water (Photo by Sarah Charters)

The highest levels were in Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California. In all, water samples from 25 cities contained the toxic metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators.

In California, the only state that requires testing for hexavalent chromium, water utilities have detected the compound in the tap water supplied to 31 million people.

On December 31, 2010, after evaluating the pollutant’s threat to infants, California public health officials lowered their proposed “public health goal” to 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 in drinking water.

There are no enforceable federal standards to protect the public from hexavalent chromium in tap water, although the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program concluded that hexavalent chromium in drinking water shows “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity” in laboratory animals, and the EPA’s own draft toxicological review found that the contaminant in tap water is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

Responding to public concerns about this carcinogen in drinking water, on January 11, the U.S. EPA issued guidance recommending how public water systems might enhance monitoring and sampling programs specifically for hexavalent chromium.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the recommendations also respond to emerging scientific evidence that chromium-6 could pose health concerns if consumed over long periods of time.

“As we continue to learn more about the potential risks of exposure to chromium-6, we will work closely with states and local officials to ensure the safety of America’s drinking water supply,” said Jackson. “This action is another step forward in understanding the problem and working towards a solution that is based on the best available science and the law.”

EPA currently has a drinking water standard for total chromium, which includes chromium-6, and requires water systems to test for it.

Testing is not required to distinguish what percentage of the total chromium is chromium-6 versus other forms such as chromium-3, so EPA’s regulation assumes that the sample is 100 percent chromium-6. This means the current chromium-6 standard has been as protective and precautionary as the science of that time allowed, Jackson said.

“EPA’s latest data show that no public water systems are in violation of the standard,” she said. “However, the science behind chromium-6 is evolving.”

The enhanced monitoring guidance provides recommendations on where the systems should collect samples and how often they should be collected, along with analytical methods for laboratory testing.

Jackson said water utilities that perform the enhanced monitoring will be able to better inform their consumers about any presence of chromium-6 in their drinking water, evaluate the degree to which other forms of chromium are transformed into chromium-6, and assess the degree to which existing treatment affects the levels of chromium-6 in drinking water.

In a letter to Jackson in December 2010, the two senators urged the EPA to quickly complete its toxicological review of hexavalent chromium using the best available science.

“We also request that the EPA immediately determine whether to issue a public health advisory under the Safe Drinking Water Act for hexavalent chromium and inform our offices within the next two weeks about the EPA’s decision.”

The EPA has not issued a public health advisory. In a posting on its website, the agency says the public comment period on the draft technological review of hexavalent chromium ended December 10, 2010.

Following the conclusion of the public review and comment period, public listening session, and external peer review, the draft Toxicological Review will be revised and submitted for a final agency review and an EPA-led Interagency Science Discussion. As a last step, the final assessment will be posted on the IRIS database.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.