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. ChimChim

    Gotta love how pure this test was. Look at the disclosure on the bottom of the linked site.

    Sources: EWG-commissioned testing for hexavalent chromium in tap water from 35 cities; EWG analysis of water utility testing data obtained from state water agencies (EWG 2009).

    Yah.....not to be a conspiracy theorist, but if I was going to test random samples, I wouldn't ask the suppliers for the samples.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tim THE water Guy

    DONT GET A KRYSTAL KLEAR WATER SYSTEM!!!!!!!! They buy their products from H2O Concepts and charge 10x's more. You can google water filters and just pay a plumber to install them.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Envlaw72

    This is an example of poor reporting and sensationalist journalism. This mentions a proposed California standard of .06 parts per billion of hex chrom. It mentions the national standard, but does not mention that the national standard for total chromium is .1 mg/L or parts per million. The California standard is not applicable nationwide– for anything. There's no mention of whether those cities met their Safe Drinking Water Act permit requirements, which it looks like they probably did. Did these reporters actually look at any of the hex chrom studies to determine how much exposure will make someone sick? Doesn't look like it. Did the reporter look at other ways people are exposed to hex chrom? No. Just making a whole lot of people worry.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. john joesph

    Who cares? You will die anyways. I hope that those worried about it get giant, ass to mouth tumors.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Tim

    Yea, I live in Norman Oklahoma too.. this is the first time I have heard of this, they are very hush hush about this.

    December 20, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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  6. JimmyJ

    Come on...think about it..cigarette smoke, cars and truck fumes, factory smoke, hormone plagued food, Wal-mart, George Bush, Iran...we are not getting cancer from drinking water...we are getting cancer from constantly listening to, and worrying about articles like these....just live for crying out loud....and stop being so paranoid. Do something instead of writing about it....like for instance mention what u did to make the situation better...reporting doesn't help...solutions help...what do you want people to do, stop drinking water...if you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem.

    December 20, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Terry

    How irresponsible is CNN to posts this as worrysome news, when it has just been shown that the incidence of cancer is below average in the Hinkley, CA area 10 years after Erin got rich off of suing PGE?

    Wouldn't you think they should do news instead of scare mongering?

    Drinking chromium hex has no demonstrable health effects.

    December 20, 2010 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Disband EPA

      Prove it...

      December 21, 2010 at 00:07 | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Move to Norman Oklahoma, drink the water and take a bath in it and say that, you bold face lier..

      December 21, 2010 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
  8. Wetter Water

    The certified reverse osmosis system from WetterWater.com removes Hexavalent Chromium up to 98.6% and it is made in USA. The web address is http://www.wetterwater.com

    December 20, 2010 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Spuds

      reverse osmosis is DEAD water. RO takes ALL the minerals out of the water while taking out the bad stuff. That makes the water totally useless! The body needs the minerals found in the water. Don't be fooled by RO machines.

      December 21, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse |
  9. Marco555

    Mctya!.......Hit's the spot.....burp.

    December 20, 2010 at 22:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jonathon

    Tom had a good link that verified my state is not contaminated so umm........ Sorry if you are a contaminated city and shame on the gov for publicizing this. Feel good obama!?! May god be with infected families !!!!!!

    December 20, 2010 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. chad GRAVES

    Great.... I live in Norman.

    December 20, 2010 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply

    Linda- Yes they Fluoridated the drinking water in the United States. Yes it CAUSES Cancers & does no good for cavities but actually causes fluorosis in kids.

    But do you know where in the world water Fluoridation started???????????
    Don't believe me? Look it up!

    The Rabbit holes goes much deeper but most people don't want to burst the bubble reality they live 🙁

    December 20, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Free the Leaf

    all natural:

    December 21, 2010 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Hippity

    Can someone please tell me if Norman, OK is on the list? For the love of GOD I have children, tommy, sally, please not Norman, please!

    December 21, 2010 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jaime

      wow, the article lists norman as the number one city...the list also shows norman as the number one city. is everyone reading this article or flipping out after reading the first sentence...?

      December 27, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
  15. BadgerlandWI

    Does anyone else think that the woman they used in the picture has a giant right arm compared to her left? Must be from all the chromium 6 she's been drinking.

    December 21, 2010 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Babygirl

    Very interesting article.. http://www.purecomplex.com

    December 21, 2010 at 02:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Paul In Pittburgh

    All the weasel words and the timing of this "report" should pretty much discredit it along with most of the left wing propaganda CNN produces...

    Note that it comes just a week after a report that the cancer cluster that a jury was told was Brockovich "imminent" for Hinkley CA and the basis of her suit never materialized and in fact given the demographics of the town turned out to have a lower cancer rate than expected.

    Note the use of "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" which translated into meaningful language means no evidence what so ever it is in fact harmful.

    Now look at how the so called report identifies the sources of this alleged "threat," by city rather than water source or provider, which if you live in place like Pittsburgh PA makes this information utterly useless and likely fabricated. Pittsburgh Metro area is served by dozens of providers drawing from numerous sources; The sludge provided by Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to it's customer is drawn from rivers and processed into a toxic brew I wouldn't give to a dying animal while my provider draws it's water from an aquifer that is so clean it gets the minimum amount of processing required by law and doesn't even contain fluoride...

    This is completely useless information likely intended to distract from the recent announcement discrediting Brockovich and her Hinkley scam.

    December 21, 2010 at 08:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Cindi

    If you look at the graph (the link at the bottom of the list of cities). there are a lot more cities that have this then are listed.They only listed a few. Looking at the chart , there are many of them. Unless I,m looking at this graph wrong. On the graph they cover the whole U.S. I would like to know how and where they get their info from. Did they test every spot in the U.S. or is this just a guess of what is out there. From the looks on the graph, area's in New Mexico are worse than Norman, OK.

    December 21, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Richard

    I dispute Elizabeth Cohen's reporting that reverse osmosis as being too expensive and ineffective at removing contaminants from water. My family relied on a reverse osmosis system for our drinking water for over seven years as our well water was quiet high in minerals and unpleasant to drink. Every six months I would send a water sample to the state lab to see how well the system worked and it was flawless. The water tasted great. Our total cost was about $432 including sales tax and annual filter changes of about $50. We once figured out that our purified water was costing us about .02 a gallon.

    I really wish that Elizabeth would either investigate and get the facts right or just don't report that which she doesn't have a clue about. There are many people who could benefit from using modern RO technology to purify their drinking water and it sure beats lugging around bottled water to and from the store.

    December 21, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Law and Reason

    Thanks for posting.

    December 22, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Helper

    Vote Republican and you'll see more of this type of pollution! Damn idiots...

    December 22, 2010 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • X2

      You are pathetic. Get help.

      December 27, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse |
  22. ggg

    That's so true!!

    December 22, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Diane Tyme

    Vote Democrat again and the least of your problems will be contaminated water. You'd be better off wishing for a swift death than to stay alive for what they have planned for us all.

    December 23, 2010 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marty

      Diane, What does this have to do with politics. Just because you are in love with Glen Beck and Sean Hannity gives you no reason to be democrat bashing. Merry xmas Beeiiitch.

      December 25, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse |
  24. Giles Jasper

    I only drink beer, so this does not affect me.

    December 25, 2010 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply

      ummm... pretty sure water is in the process of making beer...

      March 21, 2013 at 17:20 | Report abuse |
  25. geroge

    i always find good watch lists here:


    December 27, 2010 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. leelah

    i always try to keep an eye on this kind of stuff...


    December 27, 2010 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. jaime

    u don't have to click on the link...read the entire article. the list is at the end. can't even access the norman city website today...they are not answering the phones and i haven't received anything in the mail from them regarding their so called "response" that neighbors are talking about...

    December 27, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Veronica smith

    What is the best type of water filter to use.

    December 29, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Sheree Hudgins

    Thank goodness there is one negative list that Memphis did not make. I love Memphis. There is one magazine that shall remain nameless who keeps listing us at the top of their bad lists. One thing for sure – We DO have good water!

    December 31, 2010 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. steve

    geesh people are so funny
    they eat total poison day after day and worry about the water!

    everybody gotta die sometime!

    deal with it

    January 2, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. John rowl

    I was concerned when this issue first arose. I took a look at NSF’s website (National Sanitary Foundation) and found that they have a few at home solutions. There are a couple expensive solutions but the one I found easiest was a ZeroWater pitcher. It’s a pretty affordable and a super easy solution.

    January 25, 2011 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Me

    The public should be concerned about contamination's in their water supply. There are a lot of contaminants out there that are not being broadcast to everyone. As a plumber we deal with a lot of the supplies and piping that leads to your home and with out the proper assembly and proper products your home is at risk so it is always best to hire the right plumber and request the best product to ensure their is no cross contamination and your waste is leaving your home and not cycling through it.

    September 9, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Wolf Dragon

    In the picture the glass she is filling is pretty much all most all the way full and the water is still running enough in less than a second its gonna overflow everywhere what a waste of chemicaled water!

    September 21, 2011 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Wow. That's scary.

    December 27, 2011 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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  41. Musandam Dibba

    The Environmental Protection Agency has classified the toxin as a carcinogen to humans if it is inhaled.

    January 30, 2013 at 03:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Musandam Dibba

    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,,,.........

    January 30, 2013 at 04:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Chromium is a chemical element which has the symbol Cr and atomic number 24. It is the first element in Group 6. It is a steely-gray, lustrous, hard and brittle metal which takes a high polish, resists tarnishing, and has a high melting point. ^;*,

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    The tap water in Oldsmar Florida it's very bad it's yellow and the city does not want to do anything about it they tested and they said there was nothing wrong and eventually you can see that the water is yellow

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