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.

Tinker and the Aquifer

Welcome to the second in a series of posts on Chromium 6 or Hexavalent Chromium. In my first post, Water Water Everywhere…Chromium 6, I discussed the basics of this highly toxic chemical, the serious health effects, the system used to remove it from your tap water and the lack of regulation for maximum amounts of Chrome 6 in drinking/tap water at the federal level.

In this post I will examine one town in particular, Norman, OK, which according to the recent EWG report had the highest level of Chromium 6 in the county tap water. Norman is a city just outside Oklahoma City, in the county of Cleveland. The counties that are adjacent to Cleveland are Oklahoma County to the north, Pottawatomie County to the east, McClain County to the south and west, and Canadian County to the northwest. The aquifer that supplies water to the population of this area of Central Oklahoma is the Garber-Wellington Aquifer.

The Garber-Wellington formation is the major aquifer in Central Oklahoma. The GarberWellington Aquifer is Lower Permian, Leonardian in age (Woods and Burton, 1968, Simpson, 1973). The water-bearing portions of the Garber and Wellington formations cover an area roughly two thousand square miles and contain approximately 5 trillion gallons of water. Over 400 public water-supply wells and more than 20,000 domestic wells tap into this resource. Figure 3-2 shows the generalized area of the Garber-Wellington aquifer, which covers most of Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties.


Figure 3-2 shows the generalized area of the Garber-Wellington aquifer, which covers most of Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties.

The domestic wells completed in the Garber-Wellington Aquifer can be quite varied in depth and construction. Most wells are 100-500 feet deep and cased with five- to seven- inch steel casing. The bottom 25-200 feet of the casing is slotted. The entire casing except the top ten feet is gravel packed with 15-20 to 30-40 “Colorado Frac Sand”. The top ten feet of the casing must be cemented to reduce surface water pollution. These wells yield 10-100 gpm. A vast majority of these domestic wells only penetrate the upper portion of the aquifer.

Tinker Air Force Base is a Superfund site that is located over the south-western portion of the Garber-Wellington Aquifer. In 1942, Tinker AFB was activated and began its long history of repairing airplanes. The building that encompassed most of the work that would later contaminate the ground water, is known as Building 3001. This building was the largest building on the base, most of the repair work done in this building dealt with the chrome plating of airplanes and various airplane parts and equipment.


EPA ID: OK1571724391

Conditions at proposal (April 10, 1985): Tinker Air Force Base covers 4,277 acres adjacent to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. The base is within the North Canadian River drainage basin and drains into Crutcho and Soldier Creeks. It overlies the Garber-Wellington Formation. This NPL site is bounded by 59th Street, Douglas Boulevard, Building 3001, and the base boundary to the north. Building 3001 is used for aircraft maintenance and jet engine rebuilding. Organic solvents, including TRICHLOROETHYLENE (TCE), TETRACHLOROETHYLENE, and l,2-dichloroethylene, were used for degreasing and aircraft maintenance. In the past, waste oils, solvents, paint sludges, and plating waste generated from maintenance activities were disposed in Industrial Waste Pits Numbers l and 2, located about l mile south of Soldier Creek and Building 300l. Current waste is disposed off-site at landfills permitted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or the State. The base acquired Interim Status under RCRA Subtitle C when it filed an application for a permit to store hazardous wastes. Tests conducted by a contractor to the Air Force detected TCE in a water supply well located within Building 3001. The Air Force has taken this well out of service. The municipal water system serving 55,400 customers in Midwest City draws water from the contaminated aquifer within 3 miles of the base. The Air Force has detected HEAVY METALS (CHROMIUM, NICKEL, CADMIUM) in Soldier Creek at Douglas Boulevard. The Air Force is participating in the Installation Restoration Program, established in l978. Under this program, the Department of Defense seeks to identify, investigate, and clean up contamination from hazardous materials. The Air Force has completed Phase I (records search) and is currently involved in Phase II (problem confirmation). Status (July 22, 1987): Phase IV (Operations Phase) is underway, and work on Phase II continues. Phase IV includes installation of additional cover at a landfill thought to be contributing contamination to a private well. Within the boundaries of this Federal facility, there are areas subject to the Subtitle C corrective action authorities of RCRA. However, no such areas were included in scoring this specific site. Therefore, this Federal facility site is being placed on the Federal section of the NPL under the NPL/RCRA policy announced on September 8, 1983 (48 FR 40662).

Sources of Contamination:

Discharge to sewer/surface water

Inadvertent spill

Manufacturing process

Storage – drums/containers of waste

Waste tank – below ground

Groundwater and Drinking Water

Were drinking water wells shut down due to contamination? Yes

Population served by the wells now shut down: 101 – 500

Are drinking water wells potentially threatened? Yes

Population served by the threatened wells: 10,001 – 100,000

Aquifer discharges into: Surface water

Population served by water wells in the aquifer: 10,001 – 100,000

The EPA has a IN SITU TREATMENT OF SOIL AND GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATED WITH CHROMIUM TECHNICAL RESOURCE GUIDE, which gives a great deal of technical information about the process of Chromium as it contaminates soil and ground water. Tinker AFB has been leaching Chromium 6 into the soil and more importantly into the Gerber Wellington aquifer since the 1940’s. To get a visual understanding of how the aquifer is contaminated, just look at this image below.

Conceptual geochemical model of zones in a contaminant plume.

Typically, chromium-contaminated sites consist agent) may be desirable to overcome the of three zones: (1) source zone soils where the tailing phenomenon and reduce the overall concentrated waste resides; (2) the time required for remediation. However, the concentrated portion of the groundwater cause of tailing at a given site needs to be plume; and (3) the diluted portion of the determined and quantified. For example, if the groundwater plume (Sabatini et al., tailing is controlled by physical processes such 1997).Figure 2-6 illustrates these three zones as differential travel time along streamlines, or of contamination.

Waste water from Building 3001, was discharged into a pit area near the building and into Soldier Creek. According to the EPA Superfund Record of Decision 1990, the hazardous chemicals have seeped down into the soil around Building 3001 .








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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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