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Tuesday
Dec212010

New Report Raises Concern Over 'Erin Brockovich' Chemical in Drinking Water

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Hexavalent chromium, the chemical made famous by the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich," is once again in the news after an environmental organization released a report indicating that the chemical has contaminated drinking water in more than 30 cities nationwide.

The Environmental Working Group tested tap water in 35 cities and found hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, in 31 of the cities.

Scientists for the group say previous research found the chemical can cause cancer, and that its presence in drinking water is much more widespread than originally believed.

Regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency set a total chromium limit of 100 ppb, or parts per billion, for drinking water. However, there is no set limit for chromium-6, and water utility companies are not required to test for it. California is the only state that mandates testing, and that state's legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water is .06 ppb. Researchers found that 25 of the 31 cities with chromium-6 contaminated water had levels higher than that amount.

Norman, Okla., the city with the highest concentration of chromium-6, measured about 200 times that level, with a concentration of about 12 ppb.

But some scientists say that's an extremely small amount. One part per billion is equivalent to about a drop in 250 gallon drums of water, or three seconds in a century.

Toxicology experts say inhaling chromium-6 can cause cancer, but there isn't much data on the dangers of drinking it.

"The evidence is fairly good that it's carcinogenic in people in occupational settings who inhale it and get a good dose," said Dr. Shan Yin, assistant medical director of the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center.

Most unintentional chromium exposure comes from industrial processes, such as leather tanning and metal plating.

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