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Toxic Water?

Pete Springer/OPB

A new study of drinking water in 35 US cities released recently by the advocacy organization,  Environmental Working Group, claimed 31 cities have water with detectable levels of the carcinogen, chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium). That chemical got considerable public attention after the 2000 film, Erin Brockovich.

Bend is one of the cities EWG claims as having water with detectable levels of chromium-6. Bend officials say the water the EWG sampled for its tests came from a private utility that supplies water to some Bend residents. Justin Finestone, communications manager for the city of Bend, questions EWG’s approach. He says, “The EPA has a specific testing method for chromium and EWG didn’t use that. People don’t know these things and they panic.”

Soon after the report was released, the Environmental Protection Agency released this statement from Administrator Lisa Jackson. Jackson promised the agency is studying the issue. The EPA is in the middle of its own study looking at whether it needs to set a maximum level for hexavalent chromium in tap water. Currently, EPA requires all water systems to test for “total chromium” content, not just chromium-6. The EPA’s website says its total chromium standard is 0.1 mg/L (100 parts per billion) and that their latest data show no U.S. utilities are in violation of the standard.

Studies like this one can understandably raise public concern. But it’s a fine line between communicating potential public health risks and causing panic. Regarding this EWG study, Dr. George Gray, a toxicologist at George Washington University, says he’d hope that “people stop and ask questions about studies like this: how big is the risk, how does it compare to others around me, is this one worth worrying about? Is it worth changing my behavior?”

Do you have concerns about your drinking water? Do regulatory agencies like the EPA do enough to monitor public health risks? How do you react to studies that claim toxins are in our food or water? Are you alarmed? Skeptical? What questions do you have about chromium and your drinking water?


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