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Report: Harmful chemical found in tap water of 31 U.S. cities
December 20th, 2010
12:00 AM ET

Report: Harmful chemical found in tap water of 31 U.S. cities

Millions of Americans in at least 31 U.S. cities could be drinking tap water contaminated with the harmful chemical hexavalent chromium, according to a report released Monday by the non-profit Environmental Working Group.

While the dangerous carcinogen, otherwise known as chromium-6, may sound foreign to most people, perhaps the name Erin Brockovich will ring a bell.

After chromium-6 was discovered in the water supply of Hinkley, California, Brockovich helped bring about a lawsuit that ultimately ended in 1996 with the utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric, paying more than $330 million in damages.  Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California, top the non-profit organization's list of cities with water supplies contaminated by chromium-6.

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified the toxin as a carcinogen to humans if it is inhaled.  The EPA is proposing to classify it as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" if ingested as part of a risk assessment the agency is currently conducting. The agency says water utilities are required to test for total chromium levels in the water but not explicitly for chromium-6. Chromium-6 is a natural byproduct of total chromium.

"In order to protect people's health, EPA has had drinking water standards for total chromium, which includes chromium-6," the agency said in a statement to CNN. "When this scientific assessment is finalized in 2011, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information, including the Environmental Working Group's study, to determine if a new standard needs to be set."

"I was expecting to find hexavalent chromium in some of the cities we checked, but I didn't expect it to be so widespread," said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group and the lead author of the study.

Sutton said there is a well-documented corollary between exposure to chromium-6 and a greater risk of stomach cancer in humans. Additionally, there is ample animal evidence showing a broad risk of gastrointestinal tumors in rats and mice exposed to the toxin, she said.

Worse, skipping tap water in favor of bottled water does not guarantee you'll be protected.

"Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water," said Sutton. "We just don't have any guarantee that hexavalent chromium isn't in that water."

So how can you protect yourself? Sutton says your best bet is buying an effective water filter.

"Getting the water filter is a great way to protect yourself and your family," says Sutton. "It's a step you can take yourself; you don't have to wait for government action."

Samples from the test provided a "one-time snapshot" of water systems that serve 26 million people, the Environmental Working Group said. But the organization said the results show that more federal regulation of the cancer-causing chemical is needed.

The National Toxicology Program has said that chromium-6 in drinking water shows "clear evidence of carcinogenic activity."

California's state environmental agency has proposed capping levels of the chemical in drinking water at 0.06 parts per billion. The Environmental Working Group said 25 of the cities it tested showed exceeded that level.

To conduct its test, the organization said it recruited volunteers in 35 cities to collect tap water samples "from unfiltered taps in homes or in public buildings such as hospitals, libraries and malls," the report said.

Here are the cities

1. Norman, Oklahoma
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
3. Riverside, California
4. Madison, Wisconsin
5. San Jose, California
6. Tallahassee, Florida
7. Omaha, Nebraska
8. Albuquerque, New Mexico
9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
10. Bend, Oregon
11. Salt Lake City, Utah
12. Ann Arbor, Michigan
13. Atlanta, Georgia
14. Los Angeles, California
15. Bethesda, Maryland
16. Phoenix, Arizona
17. Washington, D.C.
18. Chicago, Illinois
19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
20. Villanova, Pennsylvania
21. Sacramento, California
22. Louisville, Kentucky
23. Syracuse, New York
24. New Haven, Connecticut
25. Buffalo, New York
26. Las Vegas, Nevada
27. New York, New York
28. Scottsdale, Arizona
29. Miami, Florida
30. Boston, Massachusetts
31. Cincinnati, Ohio

Not detectable: Indianapolis, Indiana; Plano, Texas; Reno, Nevada; San Antonio, Texas
For the levels in these cities, check this graph.


soundoff (533 Responses)
  1. Joe

    People don't realize this, but your government is using human beings as biological filters, then they dump you into a grave. Everything you breathe, eat, and drink is cleaning the environment, just like zebra mussels are used to clean up contaminated bodies of water.

    Work, consume, filter, die.

    As someone else said up above, look up fluoride. It's a nuclear by-product that companies couldn't dispose of any other way, and convinced the government to put it in your toothpaste and drinking water. Some people think it's a natural substance because they're confusing it with fluorine gas– it's not.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • billysam

      Joe,
      It's you that is confused. The element fluorine, present as the ion fluoride, is the 13th most abundant element in the earth's crust. Fluoride is a very naturally occurring mineral present in not only our earth but our water. It can be toxic at high levels, but not at the levels added to drinking water to prevent tooth decay.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:05 | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      billysam,
      Not according to several studies I've read. But then again, people should do their own research instead of believing what the government or some internet comment tells them.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      A "fluoride" is any fluorine-containing compound. The name is a generic.

      However, the chemical added to toothpaste and water supplies is hexafluorosilicic acid. This is a by-product from fertilizer production and nuclear waste by-processes.

      Don't believe me... go look it up. And look up its history of how it got into our water supply.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
    • billysam

      Jay,
      Research is expensive, particularly toxicological research like we are discussing. Therefore, three groups have emerged to conduct such research: industry, government, and environmentalists such as the Environmental Working Group that published this chromium-6 study. Sometimes such studies are done well, sometimes they are done poorly or even deliberately biased. I tend to trust the government-sponsored studies, but I've seen good work produced by all three of the groups. Be assured there are good people working to reach a scientific consensus on all these type questions ( as well as the media working to generate maximum controversy and sales!)

      December 20, 2010 at 14:31 | Report abuse |
  2. brian

    somebody call erin brokovich

    December 20, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. saresudog

    This just in...the earth is tainted

    December 20, 2010 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Virginia Prunczik

    OK, where did my post disappear to?

    December 20, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. DontPanic

    Folks... Don't panic. If the water is this bad don't bother to buy a water filter... since the air is probably worse... unless someone wants to start selling us OXYGEN too. Now, that would not surprise me.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tom

    Good thing I have a Brita filter!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. underdogus

    Now we know why Americans are so damn stupid.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Chuck

    It's official! Beer is safer than water!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. melissa

    i have been preaching about the dangers of tap water for years. we have to take a look at what it could be making people so sick. we have 100 x's more meds and "cures" now than we did 20 years ago yet more instances of things such as cancer. i haven't drank tap water in a good 10 years. buy a britta pitcher – cheap and effective. and yes, listing the cities might have actually been helpful – what a dumb article.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jay

      Unfortunately, Brita filters do not do much to get rid of fluoride. They might remove up to 50%. Reverse osmosis is the most effective, but expensive.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
  10. liknob

    Yeah I was born with this unique thing that actually takes poisons out of my system called a liver you liknobs. who cares poison is eveverywhere Listening to you people moan and groan makes me want to poison myself.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. fed up with your stupidity, Rod C. Venger

    @Rod C. Venger

    CAN YOU READ?????? There IS a link in the story to take you to the list. Maybe you should get your head out of your own a$$ long enough to read the story in it's entirety before complaining. Jeesh.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ahha

    Ah, the power of big business and what happens when things aren't regulated. The GOP would be proud.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Gin

    Watch the DVD Gasland....you will be stunned...the criminals in our government...

    December 20, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Julia

    The levels of chromium VI in drinking water have not been confirmed by research to be carcinogenic. See this article printed in 2002: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12028825

    December 20, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dave in Buffalo

    Whoohoo... we made the list!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. janetlaw

    Excpect a heck of a lot more of these once the new group in Congress starts – this is a group that says regulation is "bad for business." This will keep happening more and more, and the "no new taxes" drumbeat right along with it. Taxes help a community RUN and be SAFE – if it means my taxes will raise in order to hire more and better EPA employes, then freakin raise'em!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Meaty Portion

    Link's not working. Put the names of the cities in the article next time.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. cb

    In one Frisco Texas neighborhood there have been 9 different people who have just been diagnosed with forms of extremely rare sarcomas. Now that is a story. Can someone please figure out what is going on there?!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. BK Beach 4X4

    Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida we can rest assured that our rinking water is some of the purest found anywhere in the world. Well we could have been pretty certain that our water that came from the largest pure spring water aquifer in the world was pure. Then BP screwed the entire Gulf of Mexico and a fragile intrusion zone located in the panhandle saw oil flowing close to the danger zone.
    So although we once could hold our heads high and claim the purest water on the planet flowed beneath our feet in north and central Florida, now not so much. The department charged with maintaining contaminant level data has not supplied a through reading since May 2010.
    Water, more valuable than oil in most of the planet, is being wasted for corporate profit here in the USA.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Michelle Johnson

    Here's the map from the ewg site: http://www.ewg.org/chromium6-in-tap-water/findings

    December 20, 2010 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. zack

    it was stupid all Friday i couldn't drink water and i get very thirsty. I almost died not thirst.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LeRon

      i think this guy is right. it was bull

      December 20, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
  22. Kermit Roosevelt

    Improper zombie disposal. That's always the cause.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Daniel

    You can find the chart of all of the cities at http://www.ewg.org/chromium6-in-tap-water/findings

    December 20, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Jon

    I found some info:
    http://www.viscosimedia.com/20101220548/news/world/chromium-6-water-contamination-report-by-ewg

    Norman, Oklahoma (1) took first place with off the chart levels of hexavalent chromium
    Honolulu, Hawaii (2)
    Riverside, California (3)
    Madison, Wisconsin (4)
    San Jose, California (5)
    Tallahassee, Florida (6)
    Omaha, Nebraska (7), Albuquerque
    New Mexico (8)
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (9)
    Bend, Oregon (10).

    December 20, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe B.

      All of these levels are well below the EPA limit of 100 ppb. There is nothing "off the chart" about any of them. Chromium levels are most definitely checked annually in town or city drinking water. The EPA does set levels for the total amount for all forms of chromium. CNN and the Environmental Working Group are simply wrong here - the story should be retracted.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse |
  25. Ann

    Is this really news? Who doesn't know this by now??

    Why doesn't the article discuss the fact that showering in polluted water is even more toxic for humans being than drinking it? A whole house charcoal filter is the only solution. But don't worry...there are still plenty of chemicals in the air and on our food to enjoy.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Disband EPA

    If the Bush republicans would have been successful last year with disbanding the EPA, this study would never have happened and the report never generated.......
    The Bush republicans undivided support for unregulated capitalism and scorched earth natural resources by American and foreign companies makes toxin poisoning in our water a non-issue....
    Its one of those times when one would like to have those that value chemical polluting corporations over people takes some long drinks of the tainted water.....
    Fix it, Bush republicans.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Flaggerty

    Everyone's pointing to the link in the article that lists the cities, but right now, for me at least, that link is down.

    So unless I bother to go and google up the information somewhere else, I have no way of knowing which cities were affected. Now if the person who wrote this CNN article could have just listed the cities right here I'd have the information without any hassle. This really is kind of annoying when you read a bunch of drivel you don't care about, only to find out that the information you were looking for, the information that is most important that you'd think would definitely be in there, just isn't.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Jim

    Wow, I can't believe people get paid to write articles that don't include the most important information than take the lazy way out and attach a link, but the link doesn't work. Way to go CNN, you have real quality employees.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Winston

    Where is Group Captain Mandrake when you really need him? P.O.E.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Lori

    The link to the list of stories is in the article. Do you really need someone to hold your hand to obtain the info? Jeez people.....

    December 20, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. liknob

    I like to put chemicals on my spinkter

    December 20, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Stradlater

    It seems a little strange to me that the cities they listed are so geographically diverse. Why does Norman, OK have such an astonishingly high chromium-6 rate, but no other cities in Oklahoma are on the list? I guess the cities they listed were predetermined, and the list shows that only 4 in 35 cities had no chromium-6 detected.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Wawawhat

    Okay, so we'll make it difficult for you to fly, we'll threaten to raise the price of gas to $4.00+ per gallon (again) so you won't drive, and now we'll bait you with unsubstantiated concern over your drinking water? Quick, get to your local convenience store and empty the shelves of all bottled water (assuming that it has been tested) then race back home, lock your doors and stay inside... forever.

    December 21st, 2012 could not come soon enough.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Benedict Timothy Dolan

    Is it related to the satanic forces inflicted with and by Pope Benedict (Poppy Benedict) and Archbishop Timothy Dolan (satanic trinity destroyer)?

    If CNN deletes this message, CNN is satanic and CNN does not have justice in media.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. pat

    Was it NYC that tried to ban bottled water to force you to drink the tap water?

    December 20, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. NatKato

    Hey, your GOP congressmen at work! What a perfect time to gut the EPA! *eyeroll*

    December 20, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Brandy

    I must say I did click on the red letters and I came up with an error page every time. The list of 31 cities is at the bottom of the article also. My bottle water comes from music mt. Water co. In the ozarks in Arkansas. Guess my bottle water is safe for now. I refuse to drink any city water. It is either my well water or bottle.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. rpb

    This sounds like a job for Super Obama and his League of Enablers. Look Up in the Sky, it' a Bird, it's a Plane, it's Super Obama going on vacation in Hawaii. Waite didn't Honolulu, Hi. at 2.00 ppb come in second, as the most contaminated? Maybe he should consider Indianapolis, Ind. with a not detected rating for his next vacation.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Steve

    After doing a little research on some of these "hot spots" that the article proclaims, the cancer rate for those areas is the same for the rest of the country. Another misleading, typical CNN, sky is falling article that is based on basically someone's parinoia. You would think that the report report woud have checked their data first. Or that that the editor would have insisted on the reporter proving the article. Fat chance. WAY TO GO CNN, AGAIN!!!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      Your research is a little flawed considering NYS has above average cancer rates when compared to the rest of the country and they have 3 cities on this list. Google cancer rates per state and look up the CDC statistics. Thanks for playing.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:35 | Report abuse |
    • frankie

      From 2003 – 2007 the average incidences rate of stomach cancer per 100,000 in the country was 6.818.
      http://statecancerprofiles.cancer.gov/map/map.withimage.php?99&001&018&00&0&1&0&1&6&0#map
      The top 11 cities on this list averaged 6.891. Not significant.

      Here they are (the site cited gives data by county, I simply found the respective county for each city listed in the article):
      Norman, OK 5.9
      Honolulu, HI 11.7
      Riverside, CA 6.9
      Madison, WI 6.3
      San Jose, CA 8.9
      Tallahasee, FL 4.5
      Omaha, NE 6.1
      Bernalillo, NM 7.7
      Pittsburgh, PA 8
      Deschutes, OR 4.6
      Salt Lake City, UT 5.2

      December 20, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • frankie

      And Brian, the New York average is only 9% higher (according to the CDC data) than the national average. Whoop dee crap. A random number generator could produce similar results.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:22 | Report abuse |
    • frankie

      Oops, when I said NY is only 9% higher I was not looking specifically at stomach cancer so I take that back. Stomach cancer rates in NY are, in fact, 36% higher than the national average. That's pretty significant but that fact alone doesn't say anything towards the fact that the counties of the top 11 cities, as I already posted and as Steve alluded to, do not average significantly higher than the national average. The case against Chromium-6 causing cancer is not made in this article nor in the data I've looked at. I'm not saying it isn't a carcinogen, I'm just saying that I would need to see more data and research to have the kind of panic attack people seem to be having over this article.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse |
  40. Roger Gatting

    What the.....I knew years back that the Tap water is the most effective poison in our cities. And yes....The Government is busy in the Pacific having a party with Kim Jong II now...So God Bless America.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Michael DEredita

    The EPA is absolutely corrupt and useless. I bet you most of that pollution is from the EPA taking kickbacks from gas companies. How the hell can the EPA turn a blind eye to the destructive Fracking methods have on the environment, and how it makes the water supply completely toxic more miles around where it is done. They are planning on Fracking all over northeastern Pennsylvania near and along the Delaware River gap. It is known that this will have devastating ecological impact on the Delaware River, and will affect the drinking water of 17 million people. The EPA is completely ignoring this, and these gas companies continue on making drinking water toxic in community after community, killing aquatic life in hundreds of ponds, lakes, and rivers, and destroying wetlands and forests all over the country, especially in the state of Pennsylvania. It's disgusting, yet the government does not care.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Brian

    Buffalo, NY has some of the highest rates of cancer and MS in the country, looks like we might have found out why. The question is, who is too blame and what can we do to stop it.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • frankie

      So you're saying the cause of high cancer rates in Buffalo is Chromium-6, despite having levels 184 times less than Norman, OK? Let's look at their stomach cancer rates according to the counties they're in:
      Norman, OK – 5.9 per 100,000
      Buffalo, NY – 7.5 per 100,00
      National average – 6.818

      Maybe you need to rethink your hypothesis.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
  43. debbie

    Looks like the stupid people are out in force on the internets today...must be vacation time for the schoool system :) Let me use simple words – usually when the letters are blue in an article, it means you can put your mouse on the blue letters and click and it will reveal all sorts of interesting factoids. Try it – and quit posting stupid crap! Does anyone even know what this article is about? How many will do anything about it?

    December 20, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Bob

    Shoot the people who poisoned our water.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. sara

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – for sure! You can taste the delicious PCBs, Chromium and other yumminess. from the Steel Mills dumping into lake michigan water! Thanks for the great work Mayor Daley!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. DiosGX

    I can't prove I'm not a spambot, but hopefully in typing this sentence, it will convince someone enough.

    Here is a video from Riverside, CA, my front lawn, of some Roses that have mutated due to a Water Treatment Facility located about 1/4th mile from my house. I hear the alarm go off many times a day, and I know they use Chromium-6 in their water. How do I know?

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvutID6HGV4&w=640&h=390]

    You tell me.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. tim

    Tap water should be clean...but then again that would be the Government intruding in our lives.

    I hope EVERY friggin teabaggers gets e-coli

    December 20, 2010 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Mishdoob

    The real question here is was this always present in the water and the technology for detecting it has just become available?

    December 20, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. AZLlib

    This is very concerning. These are very high density cities, millions of children. Looks like we really need to pay attention to our infrastructure a bit here in the US. Water and Food supplies MUST be protected. Before we give even one more dollar away to another country we must first insure our own safety. Take a minute and write your congress person! This is truly a wake up call!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Jean

    Mel. Omaha is #7 on the list

    December 20, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
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