Officials displeased with draft setting chromium 6 levels for drinking water

While welcoming a draft of a proposed and long-awaited limit on the drinking water contaminant chromium 6, local politicians said they fear the state standard doesn’t go far enough.

The California Department of Public Health on Thursday set a draft limit of chromium 6 at 10 parts per billion, significantly higher than a goal set by state officials in 2011.

At the time, officials set a goal of 0.02 parts per billion for the cancer-causing ion, but the Department of Public Health decided on a much higher maximum level, stating that the lower target would not be economically feasible for water agencies.

The agency reviewed a range of seven possible limits between one and 30 parts per billion and settled on 10, said Dave Mazerra, acting division chief for drinking water for the department, during a news conference Thursday.

But political officials fear that the draft limit was too high.

“I’m not encouraged by the standard they set,” said Glendale Councilman Frank Quintero.

Glendale has spent $9 million on chromium 6 research during the course of more than a decade. The research has played a crucial role in the health agency’s draft limit, Mazerra said.

Earlier this year, Glendale researchers sent a study to the state health agency stating that the 2011 goal was impossible, given current technology, and water agencies would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to get the limit below five parts per billion, the current level of chromium 6 in Glendale drinking water.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, who has long railed against the state agency for taking so long in setting the limit, agreed that the limit should be lower than 10 parts per billion.

“While I would have liked to have seen a lower level, the setting of this standard is a welcome first step. I look forward to public input on the proposed level, which is significantly higher than the public health goal,” Schiff said in a statement.

Glendale meets its self-imposed limit by blending clean but expensive water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California with local water and extracting the contaminant from that local water using its tested removal methods. Glendale researchers are continuing to research removal methods, which so far include the use of resins and microfiltration devices.

In a press conference Thursday, public health officials said it would cost $156 million annually for the nearly 100 water agencies impacted by the 10-parts-per-billion limit to meet that limit.

Glendale council members said the city should keep its chromium 6 limit at five parts per billion despite the state’s higher cap.

“We have some breathing room between our five and the [draft maximum contaminant limit], but we must work hard to remove as much as we can,” said Councilman Ara Najarian. “We have to keep up the vigilance as much as we can.”

The state health agency plans to take public comment on the draft limit starting Friday, a concrete step in the lengthy and litigious process.

In July, a superior court judge in Northern California — in response to a suit brought by two environmental groups — ordered the agency to release a drinking water standard for the contaminant by the end of the August.

A final limit is expected to be established in 2014.

The department plans to review the maximum contaminant limit every five years and may adjust it as technologies improve, Mazerra said.


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