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California proposes new hexavalent chromium standard for drinking water


The dangers of chromium-6 became widely known after Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.  was accused of leaking the contaminant into the groundwater of Hinckley, a small desert town, causing health problems of the inhabitants of the area surrounding the PG&E utility. A year later in 2001, the California Legislature directed public health agencies to set an enforceable drinking water standard for the chemical by 2004. The process was delayed due to a scientific dispute over whether chromium-6 is carcinogenic when ingested (see the EVISA News below). While it has long been established that chromium-6 is carcinogenic when inhaled (e.g.by welders), it was only in 2007 that federal scientists at the National Toxicology Program confirmed that hexavalent chromium is also carcinogenic when ingested.

The California EPA then set a preliminary benchmark in creating a drinking water standard. But in 2010, the agency recommended even stricter limits after research showed that fetuses, infants and children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of the chemical. That goal was set last year at .02 parts per billion of hexavalent chromium in water (see the EVISA News below).

There is no federal standard for chromium-6. Last year, the U.S. EPA released recommendations for enhanced monitoring of the chemical in public water systems and is conducting a review of chromium-6 to decide whether to set a nationwide standard (see the EVISA News below).

The proposed standard
A judge on July 31 ordered the state Department of Public Health to propose the standard for hexavalent chromium, or chomium-6, by the end of August. According to the news release of the Department of Public Health the newly proposed standard is about five times stricter than existing rules:

“The proposed regulations set the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for chromium-6 in drinking water at 10 parts per billion (ppb) and specifically regulate the hexavalent form of chromium. This is five times less than the current total chromium standard of 50 ppb, which includes both trivalent chromium (chromium-3) and chromium-6. The federal MCL for total chromium is 100 ppb. Chromium-3 is harmless and actually a required nutrient, while chromium-6 may pose a risk of cancer when ingested.”

At 10 parts per billion, the maximum contaminant level is 500 times greater than the non-enforceable public health goal set by the state Environmental Protection Agency in 2011. The Department of Public Health described the proposed limit as a balance of public health, cost and treatment technology, but the agency acknowledged that economics were a key consideration.

Public comment on the proposal began last Friday and ends at 5:00 pm on October 11, 2013 on the website of the Office of Administrative Law (OAL).

Related information

California Department of Public Health: Chromium-6 in Drinking Water:  MCL Update
California Department of Public Health: How to Participate - Written Comments on Proposed Regulations
U.S. EPA: Recommendations for enhanced monitoring for Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water
 U.S. EPA: Basic Information about Chromium in Drinking Water
 U.S. EPA: Chromium in Drinking Water
 U.S. EPA: IRIS Toxicological Review of Hexavalent Chromium (External Review Draft)
 Environmental Working Group: Chromium-6 in U.S. Tap Water
 Environmental Working Group: EWG Urges EPA: Protect Public from Chromium-6 in Tap Water

 Related EVISA Resources

 Link Database: Toxicity of hexavalent chromium (chromate)
Link Database: Human dietary chromium exposure
 Link Database: Industrial Use of chromate
 Link Database: Methods for chromium speciation analysis
Brief summary: ICP-MS: A versatile detection system for trace element and speciation analysis
Brief summary: LC-ICP-MS - The most often used hyphenated system for speciation analysis

 Related EVISA News

March 14, 2013: Chromate in food samples: an artefact of wrongly applied analytical methodology
May 23, 2012: EFSA calls for scientific data on chromium speciation and nickel levels in food and drinking water 
April 11, 2012: EPA calls for more study on hexavalent chromium in drinking water
December 27, 2011: EPA ruling on hexavalent chromium in water expected soon 
May 26, 2011: Oral ingestion of hexavalent chromium through drinking water and cancer mortality
November 24, 2010: Deemed Essential to Health for Decades, Chromium Has No Nutritional Effect, UA Researchers Show
October 7, 2010: US EPA offers chance to speak out against hexavalent chromium
November 15, 2009: Hexavalent chromium found in bread
May 17, 2007: Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water Causes Cancer in Lab Animals
April 24, 2007: Nutrigenomics: The role of chromium for fat metabolism revisited
June 8, 2006: Scientific journal adds fuel to ongoing chromium debate
November 23, 2004: Chromium (III) - not only therapeutic?

last time modified: August 25, 2013


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