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. CSUNikki

    My friend lives in Anahiem Hills, California and has been suffering for YEARS with the affects of this chemical on his skin. Guys, it's alot bigger problem, but the Govt will never admit to it because then they will actually have to do something about it, which can take years, if at all.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. MDM

    Someone poisoned the water hole!

    December 20, 2010 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RMarie

    This is propaganda by the people who sell you water. DON'T buy it. Filter your water. End of story.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Big Mo


    December 20, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Zenkmann

    What's with all these dopes who didn't read enough of the article to see the list of cities?

    December 20, 2010 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Shantele

    Wow. Our government clearly doesn't give a rats ass about us. I bet they've known about this for a long, long time.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. wickeddog

    Why have all the water filtered in one place when everyone can buy their own filters? Everyone knows that buying in bulk costs more and is less efficient.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Lars Thane

    There seem to be varying opinions as to what inherent risks of chromium laden water are understated and overstated. We can argue the merits that bottled water is safer or equally unsafe, that government regulatory agencies and news media sources understate or overstate the dangers of such chemicals, or that scary articles such as these are merely a public relations tactic by the companies which manufacture water filters.
    But if we look at it from a common sense perspective, just think about all of the substances that are dumped into water systems – pesticides, herbicides, chemical and human waste to name a few. There isn't a water source on earth that is safe from sort of exposure anymore. The Earth has more than 6B people on it. And in an attempt to make the water less dangerous to drink, water treatment facilities add more chemicals to make the water safer to drink. Chloramine (compound consisting of chlorine and ammonia) is a common component found in our city water nowadays. And we haven't even begun addressing bacterial pollution in our water.
    Most diseases in this world are waterborne. Water is the most important substance we ingest next to food. Keep that in mind every time you drink. Can you honestly put a price tag on your health. Having an effective filtration system in your home and at work is a worthwhile investment. But just like all cars are not equal....neither are filters. Do your homework. It's important for you and your family.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Joe

    The US Government doesn't give a hoot about the health of its citizens. The FDA is there to protect Big Biz with its payouts to the top FDA employees. The source of bottled water is known only by its logo. It doesn't matter what is in the water for Big Biz to do adverts and business. btw, the leaching of plastic in the bottles will getcha if the chrome-6 doesn't.

    We are a country where money is not well distributed among its citizens. Just the plain Olegarchy type of keeping Big Biz all powerful. Sad to see the Democracy fail.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. LahTera

    Living in Alaska, you'd think we'd be drinking some of the purest water in the world. While I don't see our city listed here, I am concerned nonetheless with contamination. My main concern these days is FLOURIDE. Even the dental association has recanted its earlier statements and now state that it doesn't help your teeth to have flouride in the water. One day, the treatment center on a local base had a mishap that literally dumped too much flouride into the water. People on base had to deal with no water for days. I say we stop flouridating the water everywhere, as well as dealing with other contaminants.

    Filters, boiling, etc. does not clear the water of flouride, either. The only way to fix flouridation of the water is to stop putting it in.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. ROGER

    I live in the #2 city of contamination... great!

    December 20, 2010 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jon

    Here goes Big Government again telling me what I can and can't drink. Why don't they let us be free to drink toxic chemicals without knowledge. I hate regulations, nothing but communist, socialist policies.

    Oops, thought I was Palin for a minute.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. centsless

    “The Environmental Working Group”.
    Consider the flag bearer for most of these claims “ Erin Brockovich”
    One article from Time Magazine is reference here and I encourage you to read it.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Marissa

    News, but who's surprised? Anyone who has believed that tap water is 'safe' is not paying attention. Filter your water, folks, at the very least. Ion Exchange and KDF will remove heavy metals, chromium included. Activated carbon will remove a lot of the rest of the organic contaminants and chlorine-related compounds. Go one step further for your health and drink purified ionized alkaline water ... done with one 8-stage filter for less than the cost of constantly replacing the Brita or Pur ... http://www.alkastreamus.com. Tastes amazing, hydrates better ... and I know I'm not drinking cancer.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. MS

    Just 31?

    December 20, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Roberto

    "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."

    They call that science? Yikes

    December 20, 2010 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marconi Darwin

      Yes, the scientific method requires that you actually collect samples before you test them for chemicals, and verify whether or not it has carcinogens. Scandalous, I know.

      Otherwise, it would be called religion.

      December 20, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse |
  17. Marconi Darwin

    WAY TO GO OBAMA! Over-regulating and driving corporations out of the country in a recession.

    It is not the government's job to have unelected officials monitor carcinogens in *my* drinking water. I'LL DECIDE HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH.

    This sort of thing should be left to the honest corporations who were the ONLY group left out of the big spending tax cut.

    Reagan was right. The scariest words in the English language: "I'm from the government and I am here to help you make sure that you are not drinking too many carcinogens"

    Norman is RED country, we do not need your EPA taking out my carcinogens.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andy

      Your name is fitting... I know you will not evolve because you will be dead from cancer. It's ok though... We need population control!

      Have fun when they cut your thyroid out... 😉

      December 20, 2010 at 18:19 | Report abuse |
  18. Dave

    For those of you who don't believe this story I suggest you go to Norman, O.K. and drink their tap water for a few years and see what stomach & gastrointestinal problems you develop. If you know anything beyond typing letters that compose stupid messages you would take head of this warning because it's a huge problem. How can we call ourselves responible Americans when we allow companies to pollute our water & do nothing about it but scoff at the reports. This effects or will eventually effect everybody.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sean

    Another fine example of corporate irresponsibility that equates to domestic terrorism against Americans by corporations.

    Put simply: Corporations are contaminating the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat and are getting away with it. All in the name of profits!

    December 20, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andy

      Ah... The first smart person to post! Thank you for saying what needed to be said.

      The best part of the article says to go out and buy a filter for yourself and not to wait for government help... Well innocent people didn't pollute the water so why should they be the people to pay for the filter?

      December 20, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse |
  20. priscilla

    I CAN see the cities! How weird! : / Well, I'm in L.A. and we did make the list sadly.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. JonQWriter

    "EPA has had drinking water standards for total chromium, which includes chromium-6". I was an environmental chemist for more than two years and ran tests for chrome-6 on a daily basis. I've run hundreds of tests for Cr6+ and total chrome. Total Chrome and Cr6+ ARE NOT THE SAME. Chrome 6 is much more toxic than Chrome 3+ or chrome ionic compounds. To test for total chrome only without testing for Chrome 6+ is stupid.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • billysam

      Not stupid. If the total chromium is below the standard, it would be a waste to test for chrome-6 since it too is, obviously, below the standard.

      December 20, 2010 at 17:37 | Report abuse |
  22. Name*Margaret

    If it is in Ann Arbor, do you think it is in Norrhville?

    December 20, 2010 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. PDXSerric

    How DARE the government tell me what I can and can not drink! If I want to drink cancer, if I want my kids to drink cancer, then I should be able to do it! Damn Socialism!

    Aren't we doing that any more? Isn’t that the “in” think right now; to blame Obama and cry the Rooskies are comin!? Did I miss that bandwagon?

    December 20, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Jim Smiley

    Noting both Omaha, NE and Bend Or on the list led me to disbelieve the entire story. The only way to get that carcinogen in Bend's water is for someone from their staff to dump it in the river. This ranks them a step below PETA for believability.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Het Heru

    Yeah, not to mention the other 139 cancer causing chemical in tap (and alot of bottled water which is just tap water anway)
    For REAL PROTECTION from the hazards of both tap and bottled water see our website: http://www.healingwaterofthegoddess.com. Be blessed! Stay safe!

    December 20, 2010 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Irrelevance in Bend, OR

    .06 Parts Per Billion? Is this "journalist" serious? This is an infinitesimally tiny number. If you stretched an imaginary roll of toilet paper behind your flight from New York to London, 1PPB would be one sheet of that toilet paper. Now tear that square into 10 strips. The number referenced by this "over-greened" alarmist would be less than the width of that strip, compared to the 3,500 mile distance from NY to London.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andy

      Some elements would be harmful at .01 ppb... I wouldn't want ANY Cesium 137 in my water!

      December 20, 2010 at 18:06 | Report abuse |
    • ChipH

      The other 35,000 strips represents all the ivory tower academics who are kludging up every vacant corner of our Fed and
      State budget, MILLIONS of them writing their little white papers on Mil.Gov welfare tax dole, producing NOTHING but a now
      staggering, catastrophic debt poisoning the Well of our Republic. Think of BILLIONS of trees slaughtered for these academic
      troglodytes, quantum numbers of data bits pillaging what remains of American industry. When I grew up, you couldn't even
      see the sky in Pittsburgh, and the air was so full of sulfur you'd puke the vinegar taste out of your mouth. When I grew up,
      the rivers were on fire during the day, and glowed with holocaust chemicals at night. But everyone had a job, a real job.
      Now the only ones with jobs are the Mil.Gov welfare tax drones, and THEY REFUSE TO BE RIF'd, busy printing toilet paper.
      Is it worth the deaths of 46,000,000 jobless, homeless, on-call no-benefits, no pensions Americans for a stinking 0.06ppb?

      December 20, 2010 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
  27. Andy

    Geez... You people are dumb. Why can't anyone find the cities? THEY LIST THE CITIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE!
    Maybe all the chromium in your water is making you stupid and cross eyed...

    Anyone see the movie Idiocracy?

    December 20, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. British Scientist

    New World Order or One World Government. Illuminati, Bilderberg Haliburton.

    WHO World Health Orginasation. WTO, Codex Alimentarius and son on.

    Wake up and smell the Orwell. Look at all the Wars in History fought for Royalty. The Malthusians are the Elite in terms of wealth in this world. Research as much as you can and tell everybody you know at every chance you get.

    December 20, 2010 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Rick

    More left wing, CA nutjob nonsense.

    December 20, 2010 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Lemark Sibala

    Got to watch out!

    Lemark Sibala

    December 20, 2010 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. bailoutsos

    Isn't it funny that this sh!t is happening , but GOP 2012 front runner, Palin, is dissing the first lady about s"mores for dessert?

    December 20, 2010 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Mike

    I guess Republicans won't have to drown the government in a bathtub. They can just give it a glass of good 'ol U.S. tap water and it will choke to death very quickly. Nice, so all you have to do is spend upwards of $500 on a water filter to protect yourselves. Remind me again, you Americans pay taxes for war, bailouts for the wealthy and...?

    December 20, 2010 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ChipH

      Mike, now Congress cracked the SS piggy bank and is LOOTING 1/3 of SS revenues so 'small people' can have enough to
      hand over to landlords and credit card companies, utilities, E-70 and WalMart, you're going to see a Reign of Terror like we
      haven't seen since 9/11 between now and April, to divert that SS 'rebate' stream into Corporate, before Mil.Gov gets it back.
      At the end of 2011, when we're all backl poor again, Congress will announce that Social Security is bankrupt and dissolve it.
      Dissolve it right into the General Fund, where it will be *instantly* whisked offshore to the shell corporations of Banksters,
      and used to line Mil.Gov's full benefits and full pensions lifeboats with furs and jewels, while our American Republic drowns.

      December 20, 2010 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  33. ChipH

    Your Mil.Gov is increasing deficit debt by more than a TRILLION DOLLARS A YEAR. The Usury interest in now $14 TRILLION
    United States cannot exist as a sovereign Republic beyond 2014. EVERYTHING will be owned, or owed to, the Banksters.
    So worry your little head off over 0.05ppb Cr6, then ask yourself, how much Cr6 is in beer, wine or hootch? How much Cr6
    is in Coke or Pepsi? How much Cr6 is in High Fructose Corn Substance, which contains SIX TIMES DAILY MERCURY in just
    one can of soda pop! It's madness to be immobilized with fear of drinking a glass of water, when our Republic is drowning!

    December 20, 2010 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Kristine

    Can anyone say Hydraulic Fracturing?!?! Gas companies of the world are poisining the American population... do. not. allow. them. to. continue!!

    December 20, 2010 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Het Heru

      Flouride being used to pacify American population. See our website for more info: http://www.healingwaterofthegoddess.com/Water-Food-Pollution.html

      December 20, 2010 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
  35. Samantha Cherry

    Well, who is going to the store for Beer???!!!!

    December 20, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. sherry

    So, what if you life in Oklahoma but not Norman, is your water more likely to have that poison in it??!!

    December 20, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rinsewind

      Don't know if the water tested was from Lake Thunderbird, or the aquifer. It would make a difference to how many people are affected. I'd lobby your local water utility to get your municipal water tested. I live in Norman, btw.

      December 20, 2010 at 20:44 | Report abuse |
  37. bajadan

    Imunna go get a cold heineken and ponder on the theory above about the insurance cos and the government laying the groundwork to imdemnify themselves of responsibility for the service men and women exposed to toxins while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. it seems as though if the national standard is 100ppB and the highest tested city was at 12.something ppB then its not as newsworthy as "twice the proposed ca standard" but it does lay groundwork for anyone expecting to avoid paying settlements....to try and claim that it coulda just as well came from the tap...watch em out there...they're crafty enough to pay off nobel prize winning scientists(george c marshall foundation) to dispel the fact that tobbacco kills for three decades until they had to cave ....they now work for oil and have "proven" global warming is a myth...it's a greed driven phoney world that needs y'all hooked on something and medicating that too....pharmacutical companies are pushers and insurance and oil are your pimps..hos hos hos

    December 20, 2010 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. bajadan


    December 20, 2010 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. mkass

    We've got to get past our seemingly endless tendency to allow chemical pollution of environment. Get a clue folks. We're poisoning ourselves and our kids. But it sure us profitable: http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/2010/11/philip-and-alice-shabecoff-environmental-toxins-and-our-children/

    December 20, 2010 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Cici

    OMG, so far what government have done for reduce the level of Chromium? How people protect themselves? Anyway, it is not good only drink bottle water, I hears which contain hydrogen bromide. It is also toxic.

    December 20, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. DebraE

    I have NEVER drank tap water in my life, I've NEVER felt it was safe and have preached that for years to a deaf crowd. Growing up in PHOENIX ARIZONA we NEVER drank the tap water, we all knew it wasn't sake and besides it smelled like chlorine. Is it any consolation I'm RIGHT!!!

    December 20, 2010 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Mike

    Uh, water is tainted pretty much anywhere. Much of the water in the SF bay area is tainted with Radon.

    December 20, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. anne maxwell

    I need to know.. ive got kids

    December 20, 2010 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. dirtyblue

    Dangerous and deadly chemical

    yeah, its called fluoride.


    December 20, 2010 at 19:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Arlee

    Not being an American and hearing the bad rap New Jersey and Arkansas always seems to get from everyone I find it ironic that neither one is not on the list. Could be time to pick a couple of new states to make fun of.

    December 20, 2010 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. maryklynch@aol.com.marikalynch@aol.com

    Please read.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. kady

    These results don't make any sense. Tallahassee, which is just a college town, and has no industry in or around it has one of the highest ratings of chromium-6. Tallahassee is also consistently rated as having the highest water quality in Florida. Pensacola, Jacksonville, and Tampa which are industrial cesspools have little or no detectable levels. If you look at the results in the Midwest, they hardly make any sense either...Iowa with all the agricultural pollution they have and then the whole rust belt areas have low or undetectable levels. I think this group needs to do a bit more explaining as to WHY these places as supposedly contaminated.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. John Muller

    There is so much we do not know and we are kept in the dark. We can't complain or they do us in.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Tabitha

    Thank you for sharing this story. I live in one of these cities and my sister and neighbor both have a gi disease..starts to make a little sense now.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. carl

    The article left me wondering: Where does it come from?
    Is it already in the water supply? Or does it get there when the water is treated?

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