Nor Any drop to drink, Hexavalent Chromium

Yeah, go ahead and drink the water…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? Well in Oklahoma, this may not be entirely true. In Norman, OK, the city tap water has a Chrome 6 level of 12.90 ppb, according to a recent report released in early December by the EWG. That is a lot higher than the levels that California has established as “safe” levels of Chrome 6 in drinking/tap water.

So in my other two posts about Hexavalent Chromium: Water Water Everywhere, Chromium 6 and Tinker and the Aquifer, I have cited enough studies to show that Chrome 6 is carcinogenic. It is bad, real bad! And there seems to be a lot of places that could have this stuff in its water supply. Remember? The US Department of Defense aka Military is one of the largest contributors of hazardous waste contamination of the environment world-wide. And it seems that Tinker Air Force Base, which is located over the aquifer that supplies water to Norman, and Oklahoma City, and a large part of Central Oklahoma, had been contaminating the areas watershed and aquifer for years. The toxic chemicals that have breached the water table and entered the source water for the area population are so bad, that the site is a EPA Superfund Site. One of two in the area…the other is a toxic waste dump/municipal landfill that I have not even touched on. This dump is no longer operational, but I can only imagine the problems that it is causing. However, that is a topic for another time. What I have been concerned with is Hexavalent Chromium and the main source of this toxic chemical is the process of chrome plating objects, like the airplanes that were worked on at Tinker AFB.

Residents of Norman, OK should be concerned. Just because the local area government officials seem to be down-playing the entire EWG study and findings.

City’s public water supply meets EPA requirements >> Editorials >> The Norman Transcript

Norman’s inclusion in the 35-city tap water test done by the Washington, D.C. -based Environmental Working Group came about because of the known quantities of chromium. Our wells, drilled into the Garber Wellington aquifer, have a total chromium of between 20 and 80 parts per billion compared to an EPA total chromium limit of 100 ppb.


City officials say they haven’t tested water for hexavalent — known as chromium-6 — because it’s not required by the EPA or the state. That may change down the road but for now, our water supply meets all of the required standards.


California environmentalists are pushing to set a chromium-6 limit of .06 parts per billion in their state’s drinking water supply. Norman’s chromium-6 level, according to the EWG test, would be about 200 times higher than that limit.

Norman’s water supply is a blended mixture of well water, Lake Thunderbird water and, when needed, treated Oklahoma City water. New arsenic standards forced the city to take 15 wells off line in years past. If the EPA sets a standard for chromium 6 and our water does not meet it, more wells will likely have to be taken off line.

City official:Norman’s water in compliance >> Headlines >> The Norman Transcript

Even though news that Norman’s drinking water tested the highest for hexavalent chromium among 35 cities in an independent study, the city’s utilities director isn’t going into panic mode.

Ken Komiske, the head of the city’s water utility, said that while the study by the Environmental Working Group certainly raises alarms, he wasn’t ready to declare Norman’s water unsafe.

“You just don’t take one report and make a bunch of rash decisions based on it,” Komiske said. “We’ve been testing our water as we’re required to by the state and federal governments, and we’re in full compliance.”


The study by the EWG, released Monday, showed that Norman’s levels were 12.90 parts per billion.

“That’s quite a difference,” Komiske said. “We’re talking an extremely tiny amount [of chromium-6] that was detected here [in Norman].”

Komiske said he’s been told that the chromium-6 is most likely naturally occurring and not the byproduct of nearby airports, industrial facilities or military bases.

But that doesn’t mean the city is doing nothing about the EWG’s findings.

“We’re digging around, we’re getting more information about it,” Komiske said. “We rely on scientific, peer-reviewed studies and we’ll do the same here.”

“There are no enforceable federal standards to protect the public from hexavalent chromium in tap water,” read a letter from the senators to EPA chief Lisa Jackson.


The EPA will determine whether to make any regulation changes in respect to chromium levels once the assessment is finalized some time next year.

For now, the federal limit for total chromium is 100 parts per billion, which is well above Norman’s levels.


Chromium-6 is a known carcinogen that’s been found to cause liver, lymph node and intestinal damage in the past.

Oh, they are “digging around” but this is serious business, don’t let the nonchalant attitude fool you. If I lived in Norman, or in the area that gets water from the Gerber Wellington Aquifer, I would not drink the water, or cook with it, or bathe in it. But that is just me…Komiske says that there is only a “tiny amount” of Chrome 6, well think about it, Chrome 6 causes cancer…period. You can’t be a “little” bit pregnant, you either are or you’re not. The fact that these people are being exposed to hazardous chemicals in their drinking water, and have the higher cancer rates to show for it, is enough for me to be more than worried about if the local government is concerned with public safety. I will get to those cancer rates shortly. I want to add a couple other statements from John Harrington, Division Director Water Resources, Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG). Here is the website for ACOG’s Water Services.

Mr. Harrington recently gave some remarks to the Norman Register: Chromium-6 found throughout area >> Headlines >> The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A water expert with the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments says the findings of an independent study released earlier in the week should be no surprise for those who know the Garber-Wellington aquifer.

John Harrington, director of water resources for ACOG, said he believes the findings of the Environmental Working Group — which showed that Norman had the highest levels of chromium-6 among the 35 cities sampled during the group’s study — are a result of the chemical makeup of the Garber-Wellington, nothing more.

“I believe these are natural levels of soluble [chromium-6] in the aquifer,” he said. “The presence of [chromium-6] in the aquifer is well-documented.”

From 1987 to 1989, the U.S. Geological Survey sampled 90 water wells throughout central Oklahoma (the location of the Garber-Wellington) and found chromium-6 levels ranging from less than one part per billion all the way up to 93 parts per billion.

For perspective, the federal limit for total chromium in drinking water, which is set by the Environmental Protection Agency, is 100 parts per billion.


“Heavy metals are not unusual in the Garber sands,” Harrington said. “The most famous is barite, from which we get our state rock, the barite rose.”

Noble, which is just south of Norman, is often called “The Rose Rock Capital of the World.”

Further evidence of heavy metals in the Garber-Wellington came in 2006 when the city was forced to shut down about half of its groundwater wells after the EPA lowered what was considered accepted levels of arsenic in drinking water.

“So it comes as no surprise that other minerals containing heavy metals, such as chromite (a mineral that contains chromium), would also be present in this area,” Harrington said. “Ground water chemistry would reflect the chemical composition of the rock the water is flowing through.”

As for other sources of the chromium-6, Harrington said he wasn’t aware of any facilities in the Oklahoma City area that produce or use it.

Oh, isn’t that nice…the Rose Rock Capital of the World. Harrington says he isn’t aware of a place in the area that would be producing Chrome 6? Reports about the contamination from Tinker AFB are easily accessible.

This image was from a presentation done by the USGS for the Oklahoma Water Board regarding the Garber Wellington aquifer. So concerns about contamination from the industrial processes in the area was mentioned in 2009.  Maybe Harrington missed that meeting? (Note that the study the USGS cites is dated from 1987.) Maybe this 2008 land use report that the ACOG has published is clouding Harrington’s memory of Tinker AFB, Building 3001 and Soldier Creek? Check this out:

Cooperation, collaboration and future visioning are key tenets to a study that is currently being conducted between Tinker Air Force Base and the greater Oklahoma City metropolitan region.

The Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG) serves as the primary sponsor of the Joint Land Use Study (JLUS), which is funded by the US Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment.

The study is a cooperative land use planning effort. It is designed to promote community growth and development that is compatible with Tinker’s training and operational missions.

I don’t think this guy has the public safety at heart. He is part of the association that brings development to the area. Toxic drinking water is bad PR, you would think that more questions would be raised from the local media. Here are some links to media articles from the area…it is interesting to read these when you know the facts about Chrome 6.

Norman gets more from Garber-Wellington aquifer | Journal Record, The (Oklahoma City) | Find Articles at BNET

The article above is from 2008, Norman had to get more permits to tap into the Garber Wellington aquifer. So more contaminated water is being used in the system.

Erin Brockovich, chromium and cancer |

Norman water’s level of chromium-6 is 200 times California’s proposed limit |

California chromium 6 regulation a contentious and lengthy process |

Safety questions remain on chromium 6 |

City asks EWG for specifics >> Headlines >> The Norman Transcript

Voices of Oklahoma >> Beyond The Tap: Q&A on Norman water issues

Judge Approves Questioning of Schlumberger Employee and Resident – KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: |

What I find interesting too, is the tone of the articles regarding Chromium 3. There is a lot of mention that is a “good” thing and a necessary nutrient for healthy living. And that Chromium 6 is known to change into Chromium 3 in the body…well they do not discuss the toxic reactions of that change from Chrome 6 to Chrome 3. If you read the last post of mine, you can see technical proof of the health problems this conversion can cause.

The area’s annual cancer incidence rate is also a bit alarming. The top 4 counties that have higher rates than the US average are Oklahoma, Tulsa, Cleveland, Canadian. Of these counties, Oklahoma, Cleveland and Canadian counties get their tap water from the Garber Wellington aquifer. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

And if you think the EPA is going to set a maximum amount for Chromium 6 in drinking/tap water, think again. According to this EPA’s Lisa Jackson Has Checkered Chromium Record |

New Jersey Tenure Marked by Stifling Health Warnings on Deadly Substance

WASHINGTON – December 27 – Three days before Christmas, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson promised swift action on the presence of hexavalent chromium (or chromium-6, the substance made famous by Erin Brockovich in California) in drinking water after meeting with 10 U.S. Senators. During her tenure as the top environmental official in New Jersey, however, Jackson stalled or minimized health warnings on chromium-6, including those from her own staff, according to materials posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Despite being seemingly taken by surprise by the Environmental Working Group findings of chromium in drinking water, from her very first until her last days as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from 2005 to 2008, Jackson wrestled with increasingly dire scientific findings that raised big questions about how protective her department’s policies were, including –

A DEP risk assessment that found current New Jersey standards for chromium 6 in soil are more than 200 times laxer than needed to protect public health. While this assessment was about soil, it pointed to risks from ingestion in water and recommended review of stomach cancer rates near contaminated sites. That assessment has yet to be translated into standards;

A DEP scientist-whistleblower who revealed state sampling data showing that individual cancer risks from continued presence of airborne chromium may be as high as 1 in 10 at some sites the state has declared to be clean. Nonetheless, Commissioner Jackson lifted the moratorium on chromium cleanups, thus allowing more inadequate site remediations to proceed;

A 2008 DEP health assessment that found heightened risks of lung cancer from exposure to airborne chromium in the Jersey suburbs of the New York metropolitan area; and

Newspaper exposés documenting that scientific fraud by consultants and improper industry influence led to relaxed DEP cleanup standards for chromium, saving corporate polluters hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced cleanup costs.

None of these developments were met with substantive reforms, however. “For years Lisa Jackson has reacted to blaring chromium alarms as if each one was news to her,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to cities like Garfield. “Thousands of people in New Jersey remain as vulnerable to chromium risks as they ever were.” Compounding the problem was that Jackson and her top deputies took actions to cut off the flow of new scientific information rather than addressing underlying risks, such as –

Abolishing the DEP Division of Science & Research which produced the chromium risk assessments and replacing it with an advisory body with industry representation;

Removing the DEP whistleblower, Zoe Kelman, from chromium-related assignments and denying her meaningful work. Kelman eventually resigned in disgust; and

Issuing “gag” orders prohibiting scientists from disclosing agency data to any outside parties “until it is ready for public distribution.”

“Chromium in water is a concern but it is also of concern in the air and soil. We need a comprehensive national response to chromium in all media,” added Ruch. “Our fear is that we will see the New Jersey pattern of promises but no follow-through repeated at EPA.”

Follow the link to the Common Dreams site, they have listed sources for this recent article.

With the knowledge of just how many US Military sites are contributing to the contamination of environments around the world, I do not think that the EPA is “gung-ho” on setting a limit for Hexavalent Chromium in drinking water. The liability is far to great…the cost of cleaning up the mess, as well as any legal settlements paid out, are so enormous…I just think the DoD is really pushing for all this Hex Chrome to “Poof” go away. Let’s see what 2011 brings. The EPA is giving its decision on Chromium 6 sometime this year. I hope they “man up” and do something for the people and their safety. But you won’t be seeing me placing any bets on the EPA setting a maximum level for Hexavalent Chromium, and having federal regulations passed any time soon.

20 Comments on “Nor Any drop to drink, Hexavalent Chromium”

  1. Delphyne says:

    Thanks for this, MM! I just posted the Common Dreams on FB since I’m in NJ – when the link on SkyDancers shows up on FB, I’ll “share” it. I think it is so important for people to know this.

    I’m wondering if Paul Stamets and his mycoremediation would help with the Hex Chromium? I’m linking to a TED video he gave on using mushrooms to clean up toxins.

    • NW Luna says:

      I went to college with Paul Stamets! Or more properly, my partner’s brother did (we were all at Evergreen). I hadn’t followed up on what he was doing much after he launched Fungi Perfecti and some book-writing.

      What a small world.

  2. dakinikat says:

    You know, there is stuff that is not just right in the world and it’s stupid to not clean up these messes. Check this out:

    Wildlife officials are trying to determine what caused more than 1,000 blackbirds to die and fall from the sky over an Arkansas town.

    What do you suppose these guys were drinking or eating? Blackbirds are very hearty critterz. I can’t imagine they all just had a random group heart attack.

  3. cwaltz says:

    For those interested in a reverse osmosis system. My husband pointed out you can get a smaller set up from a fish store. Aquarium enthusiasts use them to filter tank water. A little over one hundred will filter 35 gallons of water. So sayeth mcgyver (hubby)anyways.

    • dakinikat says:

      Oh, I’ve always admired a person who can tinker something into something useful. Tell him I’m awed!! Lucky you to have him on your team!!

      • cwaltz says:

        He’s pretty smart and kind of a jack of all trades sort. I laugh and tell him one of the smartest things about me was knowing my limitations and marrying someone who could complement me in those limited areas. Gotta love a guy who programs those darn VCRs/DVD players for ya. LOL

        I passed the info on though.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    The head in the sand attitude from people in Oklahoma is stunning. Trying to say that Chromium-6 is a “natural” element in the water? Claiming it’s good for you? That’s like back in the ’50s when they had ads for cigarettes with doctors saying how healthy they were.

    Thank you so much for all the research and writing you did, Minx. It’s wonderful to have access to all this information here, all in one place.

    • dakinikat says:

      I’m sure that when some university kids get back into session, we’re going to have some drive bys using all her research for theirs! It’s really an amazing series of stuff she’s dug up.

  5. Sima says:

    We are drowning in the mess we make of the environment, literally.

    That poor, poor child.

    I’m currently reading about ordinances against pollution in Medieval cities. They had the problems too, where do we put all the crap we produce? Some of the towns even had brooks named ‘shit brook’ and so on. Shiver.

    • cwaltz says:

      I lived in the Phillipines for a year and a half in the Navy. Right outside the Naval gates they had what was termed “shit river.” The stench was awful. Unlike us though, not everyone had indoor toilets with pipes, in some places you literally are going in a bucket. Washing machines were a convenience the bases had, not the locals. In other words, third world. It’s sad to see us go backward towards that type of mentality.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I once read a book called “Dirt.” It was all about what it was like before people understood about the need for hygiene, in the 17th century or so. It was shocking. People would just squat down in the street and move their bowels, throw garbage out the window, and so on. A friend of mine had to read it for an anthropology class years ago.

  6. NW Luna says:

    I especially hate the excuses of “at acceptable governmental levels” or “no standards have yet been set” which are throw-away excuses.

    In real language, it means “High levels of carcinogens acceptable for peons” and “We’re going to block any attempt to set standards so we can keep gettin’ rich in the meantime.”

    Very good work, MMinx!

    • Sima says:

      Yea, the government accepts torture. Doesn’t mean we have to. I have really gotten a lesson in detecting weasel words in news articles and broadcasts, government announcements and so on in the last 5 or 6 years. I don’t think they ever say anything straight. Ever.

  7. Minkoff Minx says:

    Thanks Luna. 😉

  8. This is a real problem. Consumers who want to filter the Chromium out of their water should choose a RO system. Reverse Osmosis is the best way to remove this from home water supply. A Multi-Pure water filter also saves 12,000 plastic bottles in our land fills and water supply.