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. mike

    wait were is joe the plumber in all this just the other day I ask my congressmen on how to fix an electrical problem in my house and he told me how to fix it he also told me there is no global warming he is a jake of all trades and if he says that there is nothing to worry about my drinking water then we should trust him if you ever have a plumbing ,electrical,law you name it just call your congressmen or senator they are jakes of all trades like one stop shopping they have all the answers

    December 20, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Zero1020

    Who the hell drinks tap water anymore. Go to Walmart and buy a 20$ water filter. Or better yet, boil your water. Stop being so lazy Americans.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Fluoride Phil in Florida

    I have had a RO system for years with a small reservoir and I wonder if exposure by bathing is a problem. RO water has a flat taste and I take mineral supplements but taste is not a problem considering the alternative. In Florida we had a mental lapse and elected Rick Scott, a medicare thief, as governor. He has said that he will not be worried about water quality if it conflicts with corporate interests. I will be keeping my RO system for the foreseeable future. The aquifer is already contaminated in south Florida by corporate pollution.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RL

    Hinkley, CA had a contamination level of 580 parts per billion (ppb). Norman, OK, the worst city on this new list, has a level of 12.9 ppb. The next 7 cities are between 1 and 2 ppb. And all the others are less than 1 ppb. It looks like the Environmental Working Group and the press just wanted to make a scary headline and stir people up. Don't be taken in by their nonsense.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chan

      Where did you find more information? Sad to say at first read, I was startled and started to tell friends about this. Then I read it again and though there's no way that many cities would have dangerous levels and there not be some outbreak.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse |
  5. Jennifer Lowe


    December 20, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tom

    This is Bush's fault, no doubt.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. billysam

    Two points:
    1. The Env Working Group report on their web site does describe that the current chromium limit in drinking water is 100 ppb per the EPA. It's CNN that distorts this important point by "dumbing down" their article for mass consumption.
    2. The Env Working Group knew they didn't need to conduct a lot of tests (only did 35 out of 100 million water taps in the country) in order to make their headlines. By comparing the results to Californication's proposed maximum contaminant level GOAL of 0.06 ppb, headlines would be made (which should generate more donations to them).

    December 20, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      Well done

      December 20, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
  8. DanteX

    This is what happens when society relies upon private Corporations "to police themselves" and are not regulated. Try to rely on "economic-growth" when there is no clean air to breathe or safe food to eat or clean and safe water to drink and see how long you survive.

    December 20, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jo

    Perhaps today's Chicago Tribune clears some of this up.


    December 20, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Doug

    I'm on well water, so I don't care. But even with a multti-faceted cleansing process, detectable (but legally acceptable) levels of toxins appear in tap water. Bottom line: I don't care how much effort is made to clean water. A week ago it was in someone's toilet. Acceptable, not undetectable. it's a matter of personal choice. If I was on city water, I'd choose to spend a couple of bucks for a gallon of water, rather than drink cloudy, nasty tasting tap water. If it doesn't bother you that someone took a poop in it or dumped their prescription drugs in it (both detectable), go for it. Does it really matter if the city you live in is on a list or the toxin is cancer producing when determining if you want to drink this stuff?

    December 20, 2010 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jennifer Lowe

    Funny how that list of cities magically appeared in this article!!! hahahaha! We are tired of half-truths, it you are going to report the news tell the whole story, if not, stand back!

    December 20, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. mike

    OMG all gonna die, blame bush and the tea party and GOP

    December 20, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. John in Cary NC

    The testing was done for total chromium and not hexavalent chromium (Chrome +6). There are two predominant valent states of chromium: +3 and +6. Chromium+3 is not nearly as toxic as Chromium+6, and a total chromium test does not differentiate between the two valent states. In my opinion, this testing does not meet the standard of care for testing of water for public safety concerns. This testing creates unnecessary alarms. If they want to do this test correctly, they need to go back and test for Chromium +6. At a minimum, they should test a few of the sites.

    I have a PhD in Engineering and over 20 years experience in environmental water quality.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joshua

      Considering your experience, how would you read the following report? I believe that this is the most recent Water Quality Report from the City of Norman (Highest levels of Chromium found in this study).


      December 20, 2010 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
    • laurel

      I live in Brooklyn, New York and have been drinking the tap water throughout my pregnancy (I'm 8 months pregnant now). It sounds like this will not have an effect on my pregnancy, but how can I be sure. I was always told that NYC water is the best in the country.

      December 20, 2010 at 18:00 | Report abuse |
  14. Anon

    notice the PPB? its parts per billion. The levels are so low that they have no detectable side effects.EPA sets up MAX levels for every containment based on research. This list is nothing but information available from the water supply companies except this list made it to CNN. generalizing carcinogenic as one factor is a dumb idea. I would like to see a chart based on different containments , such as lead or any radio active metals. This list is nothing but a sales pitch for water filtration systems. Source:Civil Engineer

    December 20, 2010 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Greg

      wish I had read farther down before I posted this...

      You should notice that the .06 ppb number is the proposed number in California, which is a ridiculous number. The current Missouri standards, which are taken directly from the EPA are 15 ppb acute and 10 ppb chronic. That coupled with the fact that standard testing methods make it hard to test down to this level just makes it another stupid article meant to scare people that don't know much about environmental regulation.

      and I was a wastewater engineer.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
    • Joe B.

      If you have town/city water, they are required to send you a report once a year regarding the quality of their water. All known contaminants are tested. Rather than throwing it out, maybe you should read it. Or just go online and download a free copy.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
  15. Rob

    What is wrong with you people? The list is in the article at the bottom – you don't even need the link. What the? Dim-wits.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. cavemanstyle

    Your best bet is to buy distilled water. Unless chromium can evaporate at the same temperature as water.

    People got this big idea that natural spring water is better for you than distilled water because it contains "natural minerals" or whatever for you body.

    I'm telling you right now that is allll bullcrap, and the best water to buy is distilled because it's about as pure as you can get, and if you're worried about getting your "minerals" from water... then go buy some dam vitamins and close your trap. People man.. always getting the facts mixed up.. come on... what year is this? Personally, I think the EPA should be held accountable for carcinogenic findings and report them immediately to the governement so they can investigate and prosecute the sources of said contaminents.... There is absolutely no control going on here and there should be.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Rob in FL

    Which third-world country is this happening in? Strange thing, they seem to have the same names as our cities there.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. caesar

    America is being taken over, and we do not even know it.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben Bielson

      The only thing we need to fear is the 1% people here who control 40 % wealth.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Actually, need to fear the 1% that are in the media

      December 20, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse |
  19. Mateo

    And Republicans would still like to get rid of the EPA. It's such an obstacle to profits.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. ZEKE

    I heard this study was secretly funded by Anhizer Bush. STOP DRINKING WATER AND DRINK MORE BEER!

    December 20, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. brown

    Good! You deserve to ingest tainted water! Your Congress has spent your money providing clean water, roads, bridges and everything else to Afghanistan and Iraq. You re-elected your Congress, now live with it!

    December 20, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Greg

    You should notice that the .06 ppb number is the proposed number in California, which is a ridiculous number. The current Missouri standards, which are taken directly from the EPA are 15 ppb acute and 10 ppb chronic. That coupled with the fact that standard testing methods make it hard to test down to this level just makes it another stupid article meant to scare people that don't know much about environmental regulation.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. ChibiTebee

    I have a serious question. Is it safe to assume that my little britta filter isn't going to filter all this? So...bottled water for a while? FYI I live in San Jose, ca its on the list.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ben Bielson

    Oh My GOD. How on Earth can they leave Sioux City, IA. This is a city where you would get Ebola, if you drink the tap water. Even the Airport Code here is SUX.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Rob in FL

    If we didn't have to pay for 2 wars, corporate welfare, government subsidies, foreign aid, welfare for illegals, while outsourcing American jobs, bringing in H1-B Visa foreigners, and shipping factories overseas maybe we might have enough to pay for our own infrastructure. Wishful thinking.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. ZEKE

    Perhaps Britta secretly funded this. Everyone go buy a filter ASAP unliess you want to get cancer

    December 20, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. ollivanderr

    Boston always smelled like ammoxycilin to me

    December 20, 2010 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Mr. T. Bag

    As for "Not detectable: Indianapolis, Indiana" –THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE!
    Waterways in Indiana are FILTHY. Many run directly through industrial areas. Most streams and rivers stink of chemicals and sometimes appear bubbly.... You even see signs warning people not to fish nor enter the water.....
    GOD help us!

    December 20, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Jefferson

    Norman, Oklahoma tops list....fracking for natural gas anyone?


    December 20, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jefferson

    Check out this map of Oklahoma and all the natural gas plays...getting this stuff out of the ground has a devastating effect on the water?


    December 20, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. rolamante

    That's all well and good, but how did it get in the water in the 1st place? That would be a REAL news story. Name some names.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. maranda

    I read the article and saw the list. You all are trippin! The list of cities is clearly there. What's worse is I am on my Blackberry and see the list lol

    December 20, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hovaard

      really, i think they had too much tap water today

      December 20, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      When CNN originally posted this, the list wasn't included. The article has since been edited.

      December 20, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
  33. ZEKE

    So apparently even Smart Water may not be clean either. I have been drinking "dumb" water (tap water) for years so I guess its my own fault I dont look like Jennifer Aniston

    December 20, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply

    Lets face it, African Americans make up roughly 13% of the US population but make up 60.21% of the US prison population. One in every 3 male bucks end up in the judicial system due to crime. Its not just here either. There are conflicts all over the world due to people wanting to be segregated from the violent black male bucks. Wake up! We need to pass laws NOW, that allow us to give them reservations like DETROIT, COMPTON, HARLEM, OAKLAND and other ghettos that they already have the majority in. We can make america great again, you just need to wake up

    December 20, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • I'll be the judge of that

      I hope you've been drinking lots of water.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  35. Cris

    Don't worry so much about the drinking water. Even if you get filtered water you still taking showers everyday right? Your skin will absort it so if you are not drinking it you are absorbing in through your skin. There is no winning with this one.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. TruthNY

    Don't trust what's going on with the water system/filtration anyways so I never ever drink straight from the tap. I always boil it, if outside then I just buy a bottle.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. durham0426

    Oh, it's just that bothersome infrastructure. Let's cut taxes again.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. rozbot

    I live in one of said cities. Is a Brita filter effective against Chromium-6?

    December 20, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. The Jackdaw

    this is why i drink scotch.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • edinatlanta

      as often as possible

      December 20, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
  40. ohno

    OH NO! Now the water is gonna give us the hot poops!

    December 20, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. ZEKE

    Oh, it's just that bothersome infrastructure. Let's cut taxes again.

    Better yet, lets not spend our kids money on a doomed health care system, spend that money on infastructure and job creation (so ppl can pay for their own health care), and then use the remainder to cut into the deficit.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Germaine

    Oh My god!! I grew up in Syracuse NY and spent 25yrs of my life there!! All of my family is there!!! So CONCERNED

    December 20, 2010 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Sally Li

    Why didn't West Norriton, PA make the list? Ugh!

    December 20, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Mike

    Can't drink the water, eat the food, or breathe the air; I think I'll just die.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Ben

    Ever seen the movie the Crazies? stab stab, eeek! Darn water...

    December 20, 2010 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Atreya

    Don't forget Fluoride which is toxic (read the back of a toothpaste tube label) it causes bone cancer and dulls the mind, do the research. Fluoride does NOTHING beneficial for us.

    December 20, 2010 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • The Jackdaw

      Fluoride was introduced in Concentration Camps in an attempt to sterilize the Jews. Isn't it comforting that they give it to the kids in schools!?

      December 20, 2010 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
  47. Dane K

    McDonald's serves food with known carcinogens in it too... yet people line up to buy it... (dimethylpolysiloxane, TBHQ, etc)

    December 20, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. BrotherJohn OfDallas

    Where are all those experts over the years who kept saying drinking tap water is perfectly safe? They just do "drive-by" advice then hide and nobody can ever find them when cancer pops up. Those Pavlovian experimenters!

    December 20, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Karl

    I would like to thank the fine folks over at Aquafina for this report.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hamer

      LOL, don't forget the partial funding they got for this report from Evian.

      December 20, 2010 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
  50. CSUNikki

    Great....I live in Corona, California in Riverside County. I guess I better ask for a water filter for Christmas!

    December 20, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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