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 (611 Responses)
  1. Diana

    Read the article, paragraph 3, the red or blue line however you are seeing it that says .. Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California, top the non-profit organization's list of cities with water supplies contaminated by chromium-6. If you click on the bold part that starts as "non-profit organization's list of cities ...etc" it will direct you to the list and map and levels.... Interesting reading. But the list is definitely there and easy to get to.

    December 20, 2010 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sammy

    Wow. So many unhappy people complaining that none of the cities are listed in the story, and not one of them can be bothered to click the link to the actual study.

    Because so many of you can't be bothered to click the link, I'll Include the cities that are above the proposed CA safe levels. This is in descending order of concentration.

    Norman, OK
    Honolulu, HI
    Riverside, CA
    Madison, WI
    San Jose, CA
    Tallahassee, FL
    Omaha, NE
    Albuquerque, NM
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Bend, OR
    SLC, UT
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Atlanta, GA
    LA, CA
    Bethesda, MD
    Phoenix, AZ
    Washington, DC
    Chicago, IL
    Milwaukee, WI
    Villanova, PA
    Sacramento, CA
    Louisville, KY
    Syracuse, NY
    New Haven, CT
    Buffalo, NY

    December 20, 2010 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Uncle Mike

      Wow. You are a real azzhole, aren't you?

      December 20, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  3. Jane Doe

    The cities are listed in the report, MORONS!

    December 20, 2010 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John Doe

      ... and we hear from another ignorant person! Imagine being married to this wench!

      December 20, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
  4. billysam

    This article is erroneous and misleading. As a water supply professional, I can tell you that public water supply systems test their water for chromium. The EPA has established a limit of 0.1 part per million for total chromium in the water, which includes chromium-6. The 0.1 ppm limit was established years ago based on the toxicity of chromium-6, which is more toxic than the other form of chromium. The authors must have some hidden reason for misleading everyone. Perhaps they own a water filter company.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DKJ

      What about all the other cancer causing agent & poisons in our water supplies? And what do they do when they find the high levels of poisons?

      December 20, 2010 at 13:29 | Report abuse |
    • gKa

      you make no sense... "The 0.1 ppm limit was established years ago based on the toxicity of chromium-6, which is more toxic than the other form of chromium. The authors must have some hidden reason for misleading everyone. Perhaps they own a water filter company." As the article shows all listed cities do have the chromium – 6 in the amounts of over .01 , so how is this article misleading?

      December 20, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse |
    • billysam

      Sorry for the confusion. The article uses parts per billion (ppb) and I started talking in parts per million (ppm). To clarify, 0.1 ppm is equal to 100 ppb. All the cities had far less than 100 ppb therefore all are safe, if you accept the EPA's limit for total chromium of 100 ppb.
      Good questions. The EPA's web site has a lot of good information on these topics.

      December 20, 2010 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
  5. Kelly E.

    35 US Cities Water Contamination:
    Norman, Okla. – 12.9 ppb
    Honolulu, Hi. – 2.00 ppb
    Riverside, Calif. – 1.69 ppb
    Madison, Wis. – 1.58 ppb
    San Jose, Calif. – 1.34 ppb
    Tallahassee, Fla. – 1.25 ppb
    Omaha, Neb. – 1.07 ppb
    Albuquerque, N.M. – 1.04 ppb
    Pittsburgh, Pa. – 0.88 ppb
    Bend, Ore. – 0.78 ppb
    Salt Lake City, Utah – 0.30 ppb
    Ann Arbor, Mich. – 0.21 ppb
    Atlanta, Ga. – 0.20 ppb
    Los Angeles, Calif. – 0.20 ppb
    Bethesda, Md. – 0.19 ppb
    Phoenix, Ariz. – 0.19 ppb
    Washington, D.C – 0.19 ppb
    Chicago, Ill. – 0.18 ppb
    Milwaukee, Wis. – 0.18 ppb
    Villanova, Pa. – 0.18 ppb
    Sacramento, Calif. – 0.16 ppb
    Louisville, Ky. – 0.14 ppb
    Syracuse, N.Y. – 0.12 ppb
    New Haven, Conn. – 0.08 ppb
    Buffalo, N.Y. – 0.07 ppb
    Las Vegas, Nev. – 0.06 ppb
    New York, N.Y. – 0.06 ppb
    Scottsdale, Ariz. – 0.05 ppb
    Miami, Fla. – 0.04 ppb
    Boston, Mass. – 0.03 ppb
    Cincinnati, Ohio – 0.03 ppb
    Indianapolis, Ind. – not detected
    Plano, Texas – not detected
    Reno, Nev. – not detected
    San Antonio, Texas – not detected

    December 20, 2010 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe B.

      This data is flawed. Is this well water or city water? Because I live in one of these cities, and my water company tests for Cr-6, and it reports a much higher number than the one listed above. But still well below the legal limit. Anything under 100 ppb passes the EPA limit.

      December 20, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
    • prevail21

      Thanks Kelli E. CNN needs to thank you too for filling in the blanks.

      December 20, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  6. Forrest

    Go live in Mexico for a month off their tap water, then come back and complain about the quality of water we have in the U.S. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than the rest of the world? Yes. Try and be a little thankful.

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

      @ ChipH you are correct. But the American people do not want to think about the real problems the Country at a whole is facing, we want to continue to pretend everything is as it always has been and that these types of things are still the only things that need to be our our minds to fight the government on. I would say wow, issue statements that everyone should drink filtered water and put resources towards solving other issues that are pending to worsen the American lifestyle.

      December 20, 2010 at 18:47 | Report abuse |
  7. SJB

    FLUORIDE is a poison added to U.S. water supplies by the ton. Study up on this carcinogen. It is NOT FDA approved, by the way, since that still means something to a few people.

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

    Map of areas:

    Better call Erin Brockovich!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. H2Cancer


    December 20, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Paul Ballard


    Please do more research before stating YOUR facts...

    POS vs POU Point of Source vs Point of Use

    Anyone selling a water filtration system in CA is subject to a $5000 fine per occurence for claiming a removal of a contaminant if not approved by CA State

    Many popular POU on the counter, in the pitcher type, or screw on at the faucet are nothing more than activated carbon which is great for removing/reducing chlorine and a few contaminates, and most likely will not address the contaminate in your story.

    POU RO (reverse osmosis) filters can remove/reduce all contaminates and ARE NOT expensive, the real legal issue being which testing contaminate protocol (s) has a water filter company paid for and filed with the State so a marketing claim can be made as to the effectiveness of any filter system. (More on this legal issue if you contact me)
    Costco retailers sell for LESS THAN $200 an excellent, easy to maintain consumer model from WATTS (a company that has been around since 1874) that will address the contaminate in your story.


    Watts also has ZERO WASTE RO model that DO NOT WASTE any water in process of making potable water.
    Watts model FMRO4-ZW is a 25 gpd (gal per day) 4 Stage, NSF® Certified Zero-Waste Reverse Osmosis System
    and is $289.99 at:

    Another place to possibly point your consumer finger at is with your REALTOR or realestate professional in your purchase for your home:

    In CA there are "fill-in-the-blank" bold faced water potability clauses (SECTION #3) right up front on page 2 in the RPA-CA (C.A.R. Residential Purchase Agreement and Joint Escrow Instructions) and who the responsible parties are or will be for supplying and or testing for water potability in each home, and also found in the contracts for condos, apartments and manufactured homes...

    If I can be of more assistance....you have my email

    December 20, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. bilbo

    it's all George Bush's fault...

    December 20, 2010 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sgt. Pepper

    Forrest, If US water is the best in the world why is it loaded with carcinogens, and what happened in Hinkley, CA? Get real and get informed!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe B.

      Nothing happened there except lawyers being greedy. A dozen wells tested for elevated Cr levels. Cr-6 is carcinogenic when inhaled directly to the lungs, but harmless when you drink it. Your stomach acid converts Cr-6 to the non-toxic Cr-3. There was no increase in cancer there. It's only famous because of the movie. The movie, FYI, based on actual events but was completely fictional. Just like Oliver Stone's JFK.

      December 20, 2010 at 13:41 | Report abuse |
  13. Name*Rali

    Our government does not care if we die from cancer , thanks to this report. I order my water from spakletts and I hope it's clean and safe. It's time to do something about this problem

    December 20, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. trainwreck

    and the etabaggers want to remove regulations on water safety?

    December 20, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jake

    But we can't allow them to regulate this because...that's "big government". We'll just allow the "free-market" to solve it instead of issuing more regulations, right?

    December 20, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Andyvv

    The enviromental working group is a scam. Their claims come from scientific reports, however how they evaluate the data is innappropriate and without method. They cherry pick from the data to find some obscure correlation between a cause and effect. Normally the correllation at best with within the "Noise" or margin of error on the study/report. This is irresponsible journalism without providing more details. It is non-profits like this that undermine the opinion of the scientific community.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. DKJ

    To think, they are only reporting one poison found in our city waters. Many city governement believes paving the roads for tourist is more important than tracing & fixing our water supply which in some cases have more cancer causing agents then the second hand smoke people are quick to blame.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. gabeb

    Purifying water does little to help when soil conditions will not allow people to grow their own food. What are people to do when food distribution collapses? People will need to grow their own food but chromium makes soils higher on the acid scale and also makes the food potentially harmful. People need to start paying attention to soil contaminants and taking it up with their government as well as building greenhouses and remineralizing and revitalizing their soils along with capturing water in cisterns to be able to supply food and water for themselves.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. mike

    Every one of you that is complaining: Did you send that disapproval letter tyo your state representatives or just to CNN? If you can take the time to write here you can contact your reps. Here you go: We want our rights to clean air and clean environment back. No more fracking etc etc. This is my vote if no change then you will not be my next vote

    December 20, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sitnalta

    Mercury is a dangerous toxin as well, and it's found in the food we eat (especially seafood/fish) but it doesn't harm us unless in great concentration. A toxin is only toxic if there's enough of it to overwhelm our body's natural defenses.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Leo

    Give a List of the city's............

    December 20, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jennifer

    I'm curious as to what these chemicals in our water are attributed to. With manufacturing moving to China, and no EPA-type regulations in place there, it makes me wonder what kind of chemicals come from the pipe delivering the water to us. Buy American!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dave

    See, if we didn't have the EPA we wouldn't even have to worry about things like chemicals in our water! Who needs *more government regulation* jeez. Tell the EPA to butt out, as they apparently have done, since hex-chromium isn't even tested for by their monitors.

    Tea Party for life....or I mean cancer!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Mike

    It's Bush's fault...right?

    December 20, 2010 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jay

      How original. But you go ahead and listen to your Beck and Hannity and pretend his administration didn't send our country into a downward spiral.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse |
  25. michelle Maxwell

    I have lived in Bend Oregon for over 14 years and was diagnosed with Brain Caner Astrocytoma Grade II in 2009 at the age of 38. I just had my second surgery in 2010 due to frequent seizures.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Wallster

    The United States is becoming a third world Nation. Crumbling infrastructure, limited healthcare, high unemployment, low student test scores, increased disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and now unsafe drinking water.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • underdogus

      you forgot endless WARS

      December 20, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
    • Wallster

      ... I also think America turned an pivotal corner in our race to the bottom when a Tennessee fire department watched a man's house burn down to the ground because he didn't pay his $75. fee a few months ago... and Glenn Beck DEFENDED the policy.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:13 | Report abuse |
  27. asche

    the idiots who wrote this article and the idiots reading it need to go take a course in ecotoxicology before running wild with any thoughts on this basically meaningless finding

    December 20, 2010 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Frank

    The environmental working group who did this amazing study. Based the data on 0.06 ppb which is a number pulled out of thin air. The EPA has the only authority to set MCLG Maximum Contaminant Level Goals so using California as a baseline, means Norman, Oklahoma is 200 times higher than a number pulled out of thin air. "USELESS INFORMATION" nice try though.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Kurt

    On the plus side, we don't have to worry about the terrorists contaminating our water – we beat them to it.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Rich

    Be careful in believing everything CNN or EWG has to offer in the story. Check the facts. Both organizations have a spotty record for reporting the facts. Checking the safety of the ater supply belongs to the EPA and state officals. If there is contaminated water they need to fix it. Of course, I have little faith that the government can do that well either.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Chris

    Who is running CNN???!?! How is this front page news? I would fail if I submitted articles like this in high school.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. spporter-env

    Producers of chemicals and toxic meterials must be resposibles for recycling and as individuals we all should be more resposible for recyling.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Matt toothaker

    I also wanted to know which citied were effected the most.

    Here are the 31 cities. Pretty widespread.


    December 20, 2010 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Mr Grumpy

    This of course follows a multi year study that found no evidence of increased cancer in Hinkley, CA. More hysteria not substantiated by evidence.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Steveo

    One link works and one doesn't. So I can understand people's confusion even if they were clicking on the link so stop jumping down people's throats.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. ozzi

    This is a "non-profit" environmental group posting this. I wouldn't take it seriously since the "non-profit" environmental groups are looking for some kind of fundraiser since the global warming hoax collapsed. The environmental groups need some reason to keep reaching into your pocket and harassing government officials.

    I wouldn't get too worked up about it.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Rock God

    Bush deregulated the EPA and this is what we get.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Joe, San Diego


    **cities listing for you all**

    December 20, 2010 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. w myers

    I find it disturbing that there are entire states that appear to have not been tested at all.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. JJ

    here is the list – poor journalism not to put it in article!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. JonQWriter

    I worked in an environmental lab for over two years and tested groundwater for chrome-6 nearly every day. I've run the test hundreds of times. It is a very simple test to run, inexpensive, and takes a only few minutes. I was surprised to read that the EPA doesn't require the test from water utilities. There's no excuse for this.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. forklift

    Jessie Ventura just did a topic on Conspiracy Theory about these big companies stealing the water and poisoning the supply. One of the people mentioned was T. Boone Pickens. He is buying up water and charging us for it. Google and see what you find.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jay

      Interesting. I haven't seen that episode yet. Love that show though. T Boone Pickens. Isn't that the "drill, baby, drill" guy? There's a shock..

      December 20, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse |
  43. Jay

    Why no mention of the fluoride that they are shoving down our throats? (literally)

    This stuff is a dangerous poison, yet the government gives us no choice but to consume it. Studies have shown fluoride causes:

    Lower IQ
    Birth Defects
    Suppresses Thyroid function
    Impairs the Immune System
    Brain Lesions

    Read up on the history of fluoridation. Huge corporations had to pay to get rid of this stuff, because it was a toxic byproduct. Somehow, they managed to convince the government to pay them for it and put it into our water! What a scam!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. hunter

    CNN has officially ceased to be a legitimate news organization.

    RIP 12-20-2010

    December 20, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. ponkatart44

    What about distilled water? Is that safe from Chromium-6? the reporter didn't bring that up!

    December 20, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ahha

      Distilled water is 100% safe from hexavalent chromium. I have a chemistry minor..

      December 20, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
  46. prevail21

    Excuse me CNN but how about listing the cities like your headline states. That why we read your articles. We read through the stories and the information that we desire is not there. It's just another way of getting us to see your sponsor's advertisement, isn't it? Well, we are not paying attention to what the sponsors are saying because we do not have the money to pay for their outrageous overpriced products. So, for a change, it would be nice if you would step up to the plate, for once. Will ya?

    December 20, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. 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.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ahha

      The government? You mean big business. The government wants healthy workers that can vote.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      Government/Big Business. Same difference nowadays.

      December 20, 2010 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
  48. 0Anyone0

    How about a list of suspected or know contributing factors? I figure we (our governments representing "we the people") can't point a finger because profit trumps logic and doing the right thing. Logic Example/ Proper disposal of waste, cleanup and not using toxic chemicals in the first place.
    If you think our water is contamination is widespread now, just wait until hydrolic fracturing for natural gas expands it's well footprint across the nation.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 0Anyone0

      known contributing factors and hydraulic fracturing – frustration with industrial companies pollution blocking brain's spelling today or maybe I've been drinking the chromium.

      December 20, 2010 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
  49. Robert

    There are other toxins in the water, try fluoride, lithium and a bunch of other toxins in the water. They go to the point of violating laws on medicating the public through the water. Use to be people joking on "Don't drink the water, fish make love in it", but this is far worse.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. jim gibb

    why don't you internet kids, go do your research check the cancer rates in Norman, Okla against cancer rates in San Antonio, Texas. Come back and tell us your finding, papa will be waiting with his dial up connection and brandy.. hurry up brats I want answers.... go do your gibilty bop whatever you call it and get back to me.

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

      So are you implying that there is only one cause of cancer?

      December 20, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
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