Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Industry study: Water systems knew of likely carcinogen in groundwater sources but kept mum

U.S. water systems failed to inform the public of the presence of a likely carcinogen in their groundwater supplies despite knowing it was there for seven years, says the Environmental Working Group in conjunction with its release of research on hexavalent chromium. The American Water Works Association Research Foundation study was based on data from 341 water sample tests from 189 water utilities in 41 states and "focused on hexavalent chromium in groundwater sources nationwide," Jeremy P. Jacobs of Greenwire reports for The New York Times.

While most of the hexavalent chromium results were found to be under federal limits, the study "concluded that conventional filtering systems used by water utilities in 2004 were typically ineffective in addressing hexavalent chromium," also known as chromium-6.

Hexavalent chromium was the subject of activist Erin Brockovich's campaign against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in Hinkley, Calif., that resulted in a $333 million settlement in 1996 and was later adapted into a feature film staring Julia Roberts. "I'd like to say I'm surprised at the utilities' silence, but I'm not," Brockovich said in a statement. "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."

The Environmental Protection Agency last September "issued a draft review that said hexavalent chromium in tap water was 'likely carcinogenic to humans'," Jacobs writes. EPA says it hopes to complete the final review of the chemical, which could result in a change in drinking-water standards, by the end of the year. California already lowered its drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium from 0.06 parts per billion to 0.02 ppb in January. (Read more)

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