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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 Published: February 3, 2011

However, in his written testimony, Lewis said the city's water is tested regularly for total chromium and that the total chromium levels for its different water sources have all been below the EPA's maximum contaminant level of 100 parts per billion.

He said the Environmental Working Group had refused to share the sampling data details with the city, “so confirmation of their report has not been possible.

“What we do know is that a single water sample was used to undermine public confidence in the safety of our water supply.”

A chromium-6 working group has been established in Norman to monitor chromium public health issues, Lewis said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, the top Republican on the committee, called the report biased, with conclusions “skewed” to fit the group's agenda.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, defended his group's study at the hearing and said that none of the utilities now complaining about the study would have tested the water for chromium-6 if the study hadn't been done.

After the hearing, Cook said the group's methodology was part of the study and that the only information not given to Norman was the address of the tap where the water sample was taken.

Asked whether Norman's water was safe to drink, Cook said, “I would drink the water. Cancer is a long-term disease, with a long gestation period.”

Cook said Norman was one of the cities tested because it had reported relatively high amounts of total chromium.

Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Toxicology Program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testified that studies at the NTP have shown a water-soluble salt of chromium-6 has caused cancer in laboratory animals exposed to it in drinking water.

In regard to the results of the Environmental Working Group study, she said, “A single sample, you don't even know where the contamination is coming from and even if it's real.”

She said, “I think it means that we have to look further.”