Chromium-6, first brought to the public’s attention by Erin Brokovich, has once again entered the news. New testing done by Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, concludes that the tap water of 218 million Americans contains the poisonous chemical, with St. Louis having the second-highest level found in a U.S. city, at 1.258 parts per billion.

Chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium, refers to several different man-made chemical compounds that contain the element chromium.  Occurring naturally, chromium itself can be found in rocks, soil, animals and plants. Chromium-6, on the other hand, is man-made and often the by-product of industrial processes. It can be found in a variety of products, including dyes, inks, plastics, anti-corrosion products, chromate conversion coatings, and is essential in a number of industrial applications, such as leather tanning, wood preservation, and textile manufacturing. An integral part of industrial processes, chromium-6 has become a widespread pollutant, contaminating both soil and water.

Hexavalent chromium is a known genotoxic carcinogen, as it can damage the genetic information within cells, resulting in cancer-causing mutations and is largely banned in the European Union.  A study done by the National Toxicology Program found that drinking water laced with chromium-6 caused cancer in laboratory rats and mice. Exposure to chromium-6 can also lead to damage of the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal system, cause reproductive problems and developmental harm

In 1991, the EPA established a drinking water standard of 100 part per billion, or .1 milligrams per liter, for all forms of chromium. The standard acts only as a guideline and is not enforceable. In 2010, Scientists at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded that ingestion of tiny amounts of chromium-6 could cause cancer in humans, a conclusion affirmed by state scientists in New Jersey and North Carolina.  The California scientists implemented a public health goal of .02 parts per billion, claiming this level would pose negligible risk over a lifetime of consumption.

An investigation by the Environmental Working Group found hexavalent chromium in the tap water of 31 cities, prompting a Senate hearing. The EPA ordered local water utilities to begin nationwide tests for unregulated contaminants. More than 60,000 samples were taken between 2013 and 2015, with chromium-6 found in more than 75 percent. The Environmental Working Group’s analysis of the test data estimates more than two-thirds of the drinking water in the U.S. contain unsafe amounts of chromium-6, with levels exceeding the public health goal of .02 parts per billion. The Environmental Working Group estimates that if left untreated, chromium-6 tainted water will cause more than 12,000 excess cases of cancer by the end of the century.

In 1993, Erin Brokovich, the paralegal of Edward Masry, began investigating the cluster of illnesses in Hinkley, California, a town linked to chromium-6. The case was taken to arbitration with maximum damages of $400 million. PG&E reconsidered its position after arbitration awarded nearly $120 million to 40 people, settling the case for $333 million in 1996.

The attorneys at Keane Law LLC are experienced in prosecuting cases against companies that negligently allow their products to harm or poison workers, consumers and the general public. If you or a loved one has developed an illness after exposure to chromium-6, contact the attorneys at Keane Law LLC to receive a free case evaluation.

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