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California calls dibs on nation’s first hexavalent chromium limit

A framework for the nation’s first-ever limit on how much cancerous hexavalent chromium can be in drinking water was released yesterday by state environmental officials in California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wyatt Buchanan.

The California Environmental Protection Agency set a goal of .02 parts-per-billion, and will now work with state public health authorities to set a legally enforceable limit.

The chemical, better known as chromium-6, gained wide public attention thanks to the film Erin Brockovich, Hollywood’s dramatization of a lawsuit following contamination of the Hinkley, California’s water supply by utility Pacific Gas and Electric.

At the proposed limit, experts predict that among a million people drinking tap water tainted at the .02 parts-per-billion for 70 years, only one person would develop cancer attributable to chromium-6 exposure.

For a chemical that is so dangerous, even at infinitesimal levels, it’s instructive that the nation as a whole has no such standard. Not a standard that some think is too weak, or one that hasn’t been adjusted as scientists gained more knowledge about its danger, but nothing… no limit at all.

And chromium-6 contamination isn’t some kind of black swan occurrence. According to a study by the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, of the 35 municipal water supplies tested, 31, or nearly ninety percent, contained hexavalent chromium.  And of those 31 cities, 25 had concentrations exceeding standards proposed for California — and that was before officials strengthened the proposal by reducing the proposed maximum from .06 parts-per-billion to .02 parts-per-billion.

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