EPA ruling on chromium-6 in water expected soon

A decision from the Environmental Protection Agency about whether to decrease how much chromium-6 is allowed to be present in drinking water is expected soon, the agency says.
BY ANDREW KNITTLE aknittle@opubco.com Published: December 26, 2011

Municipalities and residents depending on wells to supply all or part of their water needs still have no answer from a federal agency about whether stricter guidelines will be put in place governing chromium-6 in drinking water.

A year ago, nearly to the day, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson announced that “it is likely that EPA will tighten drinking water standards to address the health risks posed by chromium-6,” according to the agency's website.

Cathy Milbourn, an agency spokeswoman, offered few details about when drinking water standards could potentially tighten up, saying only that a decision should be reached in 2012.

The agency's website shows that a final ruling is due in January, but Milbourn wouldn't provide an exact date for the decision.

Documents available online show that studies released in 2008 by the National Toxicology Program are the genesis of Jackson's announcement in December 2010.

But the announcement from the agency came on the heels of a study released by the Environmental Working Group, which had tested drinking water in 35 U.S. cities for the contaminant.

The nonprofit's study was released Dec. 19, 2010.

Norman tests high

Norman, the largest suburb of Oklahoma City, tested the highest in the study.

According to the organization, Norman's drinking water showed levels of chromium-6 at nearly 13 parts per billion.

Chromium-6 became infamous in 2000 with the release of “Erin Brockovich,” which starred Julia Roberts as the title character. The film was set in Hinkley, Calif., depicting people being sickened by chromium-6 in the water.

Chromium is a metallic element found in soil, plants, animals and rocks. It can be used in making steel, metal plating, leather tanning and in wood preservatives, according to the agency's website.

Most city officials say that chromium-6 in local water supplies is so low it is almost undetectable.

But cities still could be affected by the EPA ruling.

In Norman, which lost roughly half of its water wells in 2006 when the federal agency lowered what were considered acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water, tightening the drinking water standards too much could cost the city untold amounts of money.