State reduces chromium 6 limit allowed in drinking water

The California Department of Public Health has set a draft limit for a water contaminant known as chromium 6 at 10 parts per billion, significantly lower than the current cap of 50 parts per billion for total chromium in drinking water.

The state agency used more than a decade of research done by the city of Glendale to set the limit, which once its finalized will impact water providers statewide.

“California is the first and only state in the nation to establish a maximum contaminant level specifically for chromium-6 in drinking water,” Ron Chapman, the department’s director and public health officer said in a statement. “Establishing this new [maximum contaminant level] underscores California’s commitment to safe drinking water standards to protect the public health.”

Chromium 6 pollution—which can cause cancer-- has plagued Glendale and other cities in the San Fernando Valley for decades, a dark legacy of the aerospace manufacturing industry of yesteryear. Glendale has spent nearly $9 million on chromium 6 research and is continuing to study ways to remove it from groundwater.

In 2011, the state set a public health goal of chromium 6, which was popularized by the film “Erin Brokovich” and has contaminated groundwater in the San Fernando Valley for decades, of .02 parts per billion.

By law, the department had to get their draft limit as close as possible to .02 parts per billion as economically feasible.

But a Glendale report to the agency this year stated that it would be impossible to get the limit below 1 parts per billion with the technology they tested, which includes resins and microfiltration. Even getting it below 5 parts per billion would cost tens of millions of dollars, according to the Glendale report.

Glendale has a personal limit for chromium 6 set at 5 parts per billion. The city strips the contaminant from the water by blending groundwater with imported water from the Southern California Metropolitan Water District and using its own extraction devices.

Capital investments needed along with the ongoing costs of operations and maintenance are estimated to be $156 million annually for public water systems to comply with this new standard, according to a statement from the department of public health.

The agency plans to take public comment on the draft limit starting Friday. The limit was supposed to be released in July, but its unveiling was delayed as more research needed to be done. Local and congressional politicians have railed against the department of health for taking so long to set a limit.

The final limit is expected to be established in 2014. The current limit currently governs both chromium 6 and chromium 3, a harmless nutrient. The new bar will be set just for the chromium 6.

The federal maximum contaminant limit for total chromium is 100 parts per billion.

-- Brittany Levine,

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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