State Sued after Dithering for 8 Years over Standard for Toxic “Brockovich” Chemical

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The movie “Erin Brockovich” made the chemical carcinogen chromium-6 infamous in 2000. A state law was passed the next year requiring formulation of a standard limiting its presence in drinking water by 2004.

Eight years later, two environmental groups sued the state not only for its failure to put a standard in place; it hasn’t even agreed on one.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court this week, pressing the government to accelerate the process. The state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested a “goal” in 2011, but it is up to the California Department of Public Health to set the standard.

The department’s website says it will release a draft recommendation next year on its way to a 2015 final determination.

“Erin Brockovich” chronicled the experience of residents in the small town of Hinckley, who were exposed to chromium-6 when Pacific Gas & Electric used the heavy metal to prevent rust in water towers. The water seeped into the groundwater and caused health problems that included bronchitis, asthma and lung cancer. PG&E settled with Hinckley residents in 1996 for $333 million.

There is some evidence that chromium-6 can damage  DNA. Other studies have linked it to male reproductive harm, liver toxicity and blood disorders. The chemical is on California’s Prop. 65 list of substances known to cause cancer and reproductive harm.

It has long been known as dangerous if inhaled and in 2007 the federal government determined that it’s not OK to eat it either. There is no federal standard for chromium-6.

The state EPA suggested a standard of .02 parts per billion (ppb), which would be a significant improvement over levels found in some California cities by the Environmental Working Group. A 2011 study by the group found chromium-6 in 31 cities, including Riverside (1.69 ppb) and San Jose (1.34 ppb), both of which made the Top 5.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:  

California Drinking Water: Department of Public Health Sued over “Erin Brockovich Chemical” (by Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press)

Suit Presses State on Chromium-6 (by Stephanie M. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle)

We Can't Wait Any Longer for Safe Drinking Water (by Sarah Janssen, Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog)

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