Water, Water Everywhere… Chromium 6

Back in 2000, I got a video of a movie that had been released the year before. It involved a strong willed, single woman who was determined to make some sort of living to support her 3 kids. She began working for a law firm and while opening a new client file, she came across documents that eventually lead to the largest settlement ever paid for a hazardous/toxic waste lawsuit brought against a corporation. That movie was based on a real life hero, Erin Brockovich and many of you have probably seen it. If not, here is a series of clips from that film. Take a look and then continue reading the post. The video clips will sort of set up the discussion.

The recent release of data from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not for profit agency, which tested the tap water of 35 cities in the United States, is disturbing and alarming. Of the 35 cities tested, 31 of the cities test results came back positive for the very same toxic chemical that caused the various cancers of the Hinkley population, which Brockovich worked so hard to bring to court.

Chromium is a metallic element that is formed naturally, and there are several types of chromium. The kind of chromium that has been found in 31 cities within the US is Hexavalent Chromium or Chromium-6. Chrome 6 is a toxic substance that has been known to be extremely dangerous since the 1920’s. This carcinogenic is usually produced by industrial process and the US is one of the leading producers of Hexavalent Chromium. Manufactures use Chrome 6 for its anti-corrosive properties, tanning leather, metal plating objects, wood stains, textile dyes, and stainless steel. Chrome 6 is also a by-product of other kinds of industry like welding, or smelting, it is even found in some forms of concrete.

The real problem with Chrome-6 is its incredibly mobile in water, because of the level of water solubility of this gray metal. According to the National Toxicology Program (NTP), one of the compounds of Hex Chrome causes cancer in the form of malignant tumors. These tumors are formed in the oral cavity and small intestine of the test subjects in higher frequency as the doses of Chrome 6 are increased.

It has also been shown to cause cancer of the lungs when the substance is inhaled, and skin lesions and dermatitis when the chemical comes in direct contact with the skin. This direct contact can be in the form of liquid water, contaminated soil or air, making this type of exposure more common in the workplace. However, when you think of other ways to come in contact with this chemical it becomes more frightening. For example, if a home has Hex Chrome in its tap water, people are not only getting the internal exposure of the carcinogenic when they drink the water, cook with the water, etc. They are getting the direct contact of touching the chemical in showers, and other cleaning activities. And because the chemical can be inhaled in steam vapors, this makes taking those showers, or even washing dishes, life threating.

For an in depth discussion of Hexavalent Chromium I highly recommend these following articles in PDF format.

Reflections on Hexavalent Chromium

OSHA Fact Sheet Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium

Hexavalent Chromium

Department of Labor Hexavalent Chromium

The only certified way to remove Hexavalent Chromium is by reverse osmosis filters. EWG has some information regard filters. They recommend the whole house be filtered because toxic Chrome 6 has multiple ways of exposure, as I described above. Whole house systems can run anywhere between $3,000 to $14,000 depending on how many gallons per hour it cleans. One of the problems with revers osmosis filters is the amount of time it takes for the water to go through the proces of filtration. Another thing to think about, as the EWG report shows is the fact that bottled water companies are not required to publish their water quality test results. EWG has found 38 containments in 10 popular bottle water brands.

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