California health officials have submitted a safe drinking water standard, the first in the U.S., for the chemical hexavalent chromium. Hexavalent chromium, also known as Chromium-6, is an industrial pollution and used in the production of stainless steel, leather tanning, and as an anti-corrosive. The Public Health Department of California’s proposed standard is 10 parts per billion (ppm) of water, the equivalent of about 10 drops in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The Public Health Department’s standard is about 500 times greater than the California EPA’s proposed goal of 0.02 parts per million. The Public Health Department argues that 0.02 ppm goal was cost prohibitive and not technologically feasible for water agencies.
The acting division chief for the Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management at the state public health agency, Dave Mazzera said “Economics was the key driver. We’ve determined at this level that this was the best balance between costs…and public health protection.”
There is currently no federal or state standard specifically for chromium-6. Current state and federal standards do not distinguish between hexavalent chromium and trivalent chromium. While Trivalent chromium, chromium-3, is found naturally in foods and is considered an essential nutrient, Chromium-6 is considered carcinogenic when ingested and has several other harmful effects. The film, Erin Brockovich, details the case of Pacific Gas and Electric Corp., the utility firm accused of leaking Chromium-6 into the groundwater of Hinkley, CA, causing health problems for the residents of Hinkley.