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Opposing views on chromium-6 in tap water

On the New York Times Green blog, two experts weigh in with different conclusions on whether we should be worried about the levels of hexavalent chromium in tap water tested by the Environmental Working Group. One says the public shouldn’t be concerned about the low levels the group detected, another says the findings are “disturbing” and states should strive to remove the chemical entirely from drinking water.

The group found the probable carcinogen chromium-6 in Bend’s drinking water – the only city in Oregon that was tested. But it’s still unclear what level is safe to ingest. California has a public health goal of .06 parts per billion (not binding), and Bend’s water sample showed levels of .78 parts per billion. Should Bend residents be worried (or maybe just investing in reverse-osmosis water filtration systems)?

From NYT:

“The chemical has been linked to increased cancer risk. But Allan Smith, a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, said the concentrations reported by the Environmental Working Group were probably no cause for concern.

“The public should not be alarmed by the very small concentrations being reported for most cities,” Dr. Smith wrote in an e-mail message.

Other experts disagreed. Max Costa, chairman of the department of environmental medicine at New York University’s School of Medicine, told The Washington Post that the levels of the chemical were “disturbing” and said that states should strive to eliminate the presence of the chemical from water entirely.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to weigh in on what level of chromium-6 is acceptable.

David Nogueras reports the Bend public works director Paul Reault notes the EWG report doesn’t detail where the Bend water samples were taken or how they were handled. And the samples still meet state and federal drinking water standards.

Paul Reault: “Out of the thousands of samples that are taken here in this city and all of the different elements that are tested for you have one that came back that exceeded not Oregon standards but if I recall correctly, exceeded a California Standard.”

Oh, and another issue Allen Smith mentioned: What about arsenic in well water? Arsenic is a known carcinogen with a 10 parts per billion federal limit in drinking water, and a lot of private well water far exceeds that standard. Are we focusing too much here on a possible threat at the expense of real public health threats?

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