EPA chief says people shouldn't be afraid to drink Norman water

The Environmental Protection Agency's administrator said the presence of a cancer-causing chemical in Norman's drinking water should encourage further testing, rather than discourage people from drinking it.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL ccasteel@opubco.com Published: February 3, 2011
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A study showing the presence of a cancer-causing chemical in Norman's drinking water shouldn't discourage people from drinking the water, but should be a reason for more testing and more study about the risk, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

“I don't think anybody should be afraid of drinking the water,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said after testifying before a Senate committee about the safety of the nation's drinking water.

She said people should be assured that the EPA is following up on an environmental group's study by providing guidance and technical assistance to water system managers who want to do their own tests for chromium-6.

The Environmental Working Group released a report in December showing Norman had the highest rate of chromium-6 — hexavalent chromium — in its drinking water of any of the 35 U.S. cities tested. The test, conducted from a sample from a single tap in Norman, showed the water had a chromium-6 level of 12.9 parts per billion.

Jackson said the study was just a snapshot, but was consistent with other studies showing chromium-6 — which is used in many industrial processes and is an established carcinogen when inhaled — present in drinking water. The EPA has done a health assessment that is now being reviewed by independent scientists.

Any new standard for the chemical would be years away, and it would be “irresponsible” to guess what level of the chemical might be acceptable, Jackson said. Though some witnesses testified Wednesday that the EPA's current standard for chromium is outdated, Jackson said the science is still evolving in regard to chromium-6 in drinking water.

Officials from Norman and other cities that had their water tested have taken issue with the Environmental Working Group study and some complained Wednesday that media reports about it caused undue concern among residents.

Steve Lewis, Norman's city manager, was scheduled to testify Wednesday at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, but couldn't get out of Oklahoma because of the recent snowstorm.

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