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California chromium 6 regulation a contentious and lengthy process

BY Michael Baker Published: December 26, 2010

A Public Health Goal is a guideline for the Public Health Department to follow when adopting an enforceable regulation.

Once the department begins the research and evaluation required, it's likely to be four to five years before an enforceable regulation is adopted, California Department of Public Health spokesman Ken August said.

When releasing its survey last week, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group recommended a national standard of 0.06 parts per billion.

Achievable goal?

And in a recent letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, said they planned to introduce legislation setting a deadline for an enforceable chromium 6 standard.

On Wednesday, the head of the EPA said it would likely tighten drinking water standards to address the potential health risk of chromium 6.

If California is any example, such a standard could spur more than a little opposition.

Many of the critics argued that the National Toxicology Program's conclusion is at best iffy when applied to humans.

A regulatory advocate for the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents more than 450 public water agencies, wrote that “the NTP study did not find excess cancers at the lowered studied doses in both rats and mice. Equally as important, the stomach composition of humans and rodents is very different, with humans having a much more sophisticated and higher level of gastric juices than rodents.”

When setting a standard, the California Public Health Department must take into account technical and feasibility issues as well as whether a level is “so low that it might be a great hardship on a community to achieve that level,” August said.

Between 1997 and 2008, California tested 7,000 drinking water sources in the state for chromium 6. About 2,200 were found to have the carcinogen present and of those 1,900 were found to have levels between 1 and 10 parts per billion. About 90 had levels above 20 parts per billion. And 231 fell in line with Norman, showing between 11 and 20 parts per billion.

“The cities in California that have been blending in clean water to reduce their levels have basically been getting their level to 5 or below, but not to 1 or below, or 0.06 or below,” Delson said. “Water can be safe for human consumption at levels higher than the Public Health Goal.”

California and chromium 6

Between 1997 and 2008, California health officials tested 7,000 drinking water sources for the presence of chromium 6. Here are the results of those tests.

Peak level in parts

per billion

More than 50








of sources








Total: 2,208

Source: California Department of Public Health


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