High Chromium Levels Found in Chicago Drinking Water

The toxic, heavy metal, hexavalent chromium, has been found in high levels in Chicago’s drinking water. Testing has begun for the toxin and initial levels indicate amounts 11 times greater than the recent California health standard allows, said the Chicago Tribune.

Chromium, which is, said the Chicago Tribune, a naturally occurring element in the environment, is also a toxin that is dumped into bodies of water by industry. The heavy metal is used in the manufacture of steel and plate metal, and is also used in leather tanning and as a corrosion preventative.

Regulations limit chromium levels and mandate testing, but both only for total chromium; less stringent standards only apply to the nutrient, chromium-3, explained the Tribune. Some feel the rule should be stronger and should include chromium-6, the more dangerous form of the metal.

Chromium can cause dangerous health effects and Livestrong.com points out that chromium exposure can cause skin irritation, asthma, kidney and liver damage, dental issues, and cancer. Considered a general carcinogen, hexavalent chromium can lead to a variety of cancers such as of the stomach, throat, and uterus; however, lung cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer caused by hexavalent chromium. Other forms of cancer, not yet identified, could also be linked to the toxic metal, said Livestrong. The Tribune noted that the metal has been significantly linked to stomach cancer.

Sadly, the chromium contamination might not be resolved any time soon in Chicago and other cities because industry and municipalities are lobbying against the Obama administration’s plans for national regulations, said the Tribune. Meanwhile, the Tribune obtained test results that found that the amount of chromium in Lake Michigan is much higher than the amount science says could increase the likelihood for cancer.

Most of the water suppliers in the United States meet health standards for the 114 regulated contaminants; however, when new risks occur, years can pass before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adds the pollutant to its list of drinking water contaminants, usually over issues with utilities and industry who oppose costly changes, said the Tribune.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative arm, recently criticized the EPA for not adding new pollutants to its list during President George W. Bush’ second administration, said the Tribune. Further, the GAO said that the EPA has not accomplished much in the way of monitoring unregulated contaminants in drinking water, among other issues, added the Tribune.

As expected, industry questions the research used by the EPA and the National Toxicology Program to identify chromium-contaminated water as a risk for cancer, said the Tribune. Also, industry touts its own studies, but the results of those generally minimize possible risks for toxins such as hexavalent chromium..

Water utilities are not mandated to test for contaminants not on the EPA list; utilities do not have to divulge test results; and hexavalent chromium is not regulated or monitored in bottled water, which often utilizes municipal water supplies, said the Tribune.

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