In 1993, Erin Brockovich was a key player in the case against Pacific Gas and Electric when it was found to be polluting the water of Hinckley, California with chromium-6, a carcinogenic chemical. Now, a new report by the Environmental Working Group has found that the chemical is actually still in the drinking water, threatening 218 million Americans.

Source: EWG

Source: EWG

But while there is no scientific consensus of the amount of the chemical that is deemed dangerous or exactly how it will affect people long-term, the environmental watchdog feels that the quantity observed in the drinking water is at unsafe levels. California has a legal limit set for steel production and in electrical plants’ cooling towers, but some find this still to be unacceptable.

Phoenix, Arizona has the highest levels of the chemical in their drinking water, with 79 out of 80 drinking water samples containing 7.853 ppb. California health officials recommend a goal of 0.02 ppb, but they say that pressure from big organizations led them to compromise to a legal limit of 10 ppb.

In an analysis from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the level of chromium-6 within water, they found that 12,000 Americans are at risk of developing cancer from the shockingly-high levels of the chemical.

The report’s co-author Bill Walker says:

“More than two-thirds of Americans’ drinking water supply has more chromium than the level that California scientists say is safe – a number that’s been confirmed by scientists in both New Jersey and North Carolina.”

Despite this widespread contamination, the US currently has no national drinking water standard for chromium-6.” [2]

As reported by the EWG:

“After the 2008 National Toxicology Program study found that mice and rats who drank chromium-6-laced water developed stomach and intestinal tumors, scientists in the EPA’s Integrated Risk and Information System, or IRIS, began a risk assessment, the first step toward drafting a national regulation to cap chromium-6 contamination in drinking water. They saw that the 2008 study provided clear evidence that chromium-6 is carcinogenic, and reviewed hundreds of other studies.

In 2010, the EPA completed, but did not officially release, a draft risk assessment that classified oral exposure to chromium-6 as ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans.’

Source: EWG
Source: EWG

Erin Brockovich said this contamination issue is more widespread than most know:

“The water system in this country is overwhelmed and we aren’t putting enough resources towards this essential resource. We simply can’t continue to survive with toxic drinking water.” [2]

Many are understandably frustrated that the government and health officials are not spurred into action.

Bill Walker, co-author of the report and managing editor of the Environmental Working Group, voiced his frustration with the country’s seeming inaction:

“When you find widespread evidence of contamination, do something about it. Don’t just study it to death. [We are] trying to raise the alarm about a single chemical. We’re kind of using chromium-6 as a poster child for systemic failures of drinking water regulation.” [3]

Chromium-6 can cause a host of problems, including cancer. It can also cause liver damage, problems with children’s development and issues involving reproduction.

image-ewg_chrom6_healthprobs_c02-1
Source: EWG

The 1993 case was famously made into a film starring Julia Roberts in 2000 called “Erin Brockovich.” Since its been almost 23 years since the battle, one would think that America’s water supply is fully cleared of the chemical, but it seems that we’re still being exposed to chemicals that should have been rid of years ago.

This article originally appeared at Natural Society.


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