|Chromium Water Contamination|
In earlier days too, some pioneers enjoying the unspoiled vistas of America raised water to their mouths that had just flowed over the rotting remains of a duck not far upstream. In both cases it could be those people experienced anything from a mild sickness to shorter lifespans. In those days, it was just the nature of living. Eventually you died and often no one really knew why.
I’ve read many reports about the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) recent studies showing 31 of 35 U.S. cities had unacceptable levels of hexavalent chromium in their drinking water. This is the same stuff made famous by Erin Brockovich (not Julia Roberts) in the 1990s when she sued Pacific Gas and Electric for millions over a bubble of cancer cases in Hinckley, California thought to have been caused by the material.
Chromium has been involved with tanning, pulp, steel, metal plating, plastics, and dyes. The hexavalent variety is produced when chromite ore is roasted with calcium or sodium carbonate. In its 1998 “Toxicological Review of Hexavalent Chromium,” the EPA reiterated its 1996 findings that hexavalent chromium is a carcinogen in humans when inhaled and that it could not determine at the time if it was carcinogenic when ingested. Its latest report is under review and cannot be quoted from or cited at this time, but it only looks at the question of hexavalent chromium as a carcinogen when ingested.
While preparing this post I looked at the incidences of stomach cancer over a 20-year period (1988-2008) in San Bernardino County - the one where Hinckley is. The age-adjusted rate per 100,000 people for that period was 8.45. Across the state of California, the age-adjusted rate is 8.97 for the same period. When you look at the incidences of all cancers, San Bernardino County’s rate for the 20 years is 481.81, while the statewide rate is 494.57. San Bernardino has a lower cancer rate than 32 of the 47 counties in California. To be fair, there was an uptick in the rate of cancer cases from 1991 through 1994 when the age-adjusted rate exceeded 500, but it also jumped over 500 in 2001.
Even though there is some evidence mice and rats have gotten cancer from this material when ingested, you can find as many detractors who will cite valid studies showing how the biological differences of rodents cause the chromium to be more deadly to them. There is also knowledge cited by the EPA in its review referenced above that the human gastrointestinal tract converts hexavalent chromium to the more benign chromium trivalent and that less than five percent of the hexavalent variety is absorbed.
The EWG’s report has been called suspect by some and Anne Kolton, VP for communications for the American Chemistry Counci,l in a letter to the Washington Post commented that the EWG would not share its data and therefore it was “impossible to comment intelligently on a study without key information, such as methodology, specific findings, and peer-review process.”
No one wants to drink contaminants like hexavalent chromium but it seems Brockovich and now the EWG have added more haze to an already hazy issue.