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Probable carcinogen hexavalent chromium found in drinking water of 31 U.S. cities

"At this point, we should strive to not have any hexavalent chromium in drinking water" or at least limit the amounts to the level proposed by California, Costa wrote in an e-mail.

Hexavalent chromium has long been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled, but scientists only recently found evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals when ingested. It has been linked in animals to liver and kidney damage as well as leukemia, stomach cancer and other cancers.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, says the California goal is unrealistic because some water supplies have naturally occurring hexavalent chromium that is higher than .06 parts per billion.

In a written statement, the group's senior director, Ann Mason, said that "even the most sophisticated analytical methods used by EPA are not able to detect the extremely low levels that California wants to establish."

The group supports a "uniform, national standard for hexavalent chromium in drinking water, based on sound science," Mason wrote. "Research is underway to provide EPA with critical data that will allow for a more informed risk assessment of hexavalent chromium. This data will be complete by mid-2011. Given the potential impact on drinking water supplies, EPA should incorporate this data in its assessment."

Brendan Gilfillan, an EPA spokesman, said that the agency was aware of the new study by the Environmental Working Group and that the findings will be considered as the agency reviews total chromium in drinking water, work that is expected to be completed next year.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that water utilities across the country are resistant to the regulation.

"It's not their fault. They didn't cause the contamination. But if a limit is set, it's going to be extraordinarily expensive for them to clean this up," Cook said. "The problem in all of this is that we lose sight of the water drinkers, of the people at the end of the tap. There is tremendous push-back from polluters and from water utilities. The real focus has to be on public health."

The report will be available Monday at www.ewg.org


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