In 2000, Erin Brokovich starring Julia Roberts brought a sinister and shocking discovery out of the shadows and into the public eye. In the film a chemical called hexavalent chromium was found in water supplies and led to the eponymous character, played by Roberts, into an investigation and lawsuit against a gas company.
Ten years later, separating Hollywood from reality, there is growing concern that the chemical – thought to be carcinogenic – is now polluting the drinking water supplies of 31 cities throughout America, possibly more.
Clearing drinking water of hexavalent chromium is not a simple task, and off-the-shelf filters such as those made by Brita and PUR are not able to do so. There are a few techniques based on reverse osmosis designed for use at home that will remove it from the water.
The Environmental Working Group took samples from 35 cities and discovered that 31 of those had hexavalent chromium in their water supplies. Furthermore, 25 of those cities tested were found to have higher levels than the safety cap proposed by the State of California last year.
As yet the federal government hasn’t set a safe limit for hexavalent chromium in drinking water but further examination of the chemical is currently underway. Their findings will lead to restrictions if deemed necessary. Last year, California suggested a limit of 0.06 parts per billion would be an acceptable level of hexavalent chromium, but as yet the public health safety bill has not been passed.
Hexavalent chromium was used heavily in the early 1990’s during a boom in industrialisation. Though not used so much today it is still involved in certain processes like chrome plating, manufacturing of plastics and dyes.
In 1996 Pacific Gas and Electric paid $333 million in damages to Hinkley residents after it was discovered they were responsible for leaking dangerous amounts of the chemical into groundwater over a 30 year period.
A recent study of the area and its residents returned no significant changes in cancer levels during the period between 1998 and 2008. Despite pledging to clean up the contamination, 14 years on PG&E are still having trouble containing the chemical.
PG&E has been giving affected residents bottled water and has sent letters to about 100 property owners expressing interest in buying their property. The company has said it will continue those efforts despite the recent cancer study.
The 2009 documentary by Kevin McMahon covers a similar threat to the Great Lakes of North America, where chemical pollution has caused dwindling fish stocks and feminisation of frogs and human populations in the surrounding areas.
Clean, pure water is at a premium these days, and with many drinking supplies tainted with fluoride, uranium and aluminium, the risk of cancer is growing ever larger.
Please share your thoughts on the state of our drinking water by leaving a comment.
images: mindfully.org, rankopedia.com