By Dr. Mercola
In December of 2010, Environmental Working Group (EWG) published the results of the first national investigation of suspected carcinogen chromium-6 (also known as hexavalent chromium) in the drinking water of 35 cities around the United States. EWG supporters submitted tap water samples from their own communities—this study represents a consumer-driven groundswell of interest in water safety by an increasing number of you who are taking proactive roles regarding your health.
Unfortunately, the results of the study were disturbing.
Chromium-6 was detected in 31 of the 35 city water supplies tested. Even though this report stirred controversy, the EWG's findings were confirmed by a number of independent tests by various water utility companies.
Hexavalent chromium is classified as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It is a common pollutant from steel and pulp mills, as well as metal plating and leather tanning facilities. High levels of hexavalent chromium have also been discovered seeping from coal ash disposal sites nationwide. Since it would cost industries a pretty penny to control this pollutant, they've been opposing state-mandated regulation of the chemical in your drinking water, despite its known toxicity.
Because no legal limit has been set for tap water, your health may be at risk.
Within hours of the report's release, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced a new nationwide plan to help local utilities assess chromium-6 in drinking water. That's a good first step.
A History of Fraud and Deception
If the term "hexavalent chromium" rings a bell, you may be remembering it from the 2000 movie "Erin Brockovich."
The film tells the tale of how California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was found to be contaminating groundwater with chromium-6 in Hinkley, California, for more than three decades. PG&E eventually paid $333 million in damages to the residents of Hinkley for the odious transgression—the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history.
However, this was not before putting their best efforts into a cover up. As EWG reported:
"A 2005 Wall Street Journal investigation and a separate EWG report based on court documents and depositions from a similar lawsuit in Kettleman City, California, revealed that PG&E had hired consultants to publish a fraudulent analysis of cancer mortality in Chinese villagers exposed to hexavalent chromium, in an attempt to disprove the link between the chemical and cancer.
The study was published in the respected Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and scientists and regulators — including the EPA — cited the fraudulent article in research and safety assessments. The journal retracted the paper in 2006 in response to EWG's request for corrective action."
After re-assessing the data, California officials later found a significant increase in stomach cancer in those exposed to chromium-6. Then in 2007, a study by the National Toxicology Program found that the chemical increases gastrointestinal tumors in animals.
Human Health Effects of Chromium-6
According to the EWG's summary, "At least 74 million Americans in 42 states drink chromium-polluted tap water, much of it likely in the form of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium."
According to the "OSHA Fact Sheet: Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium," health problems range from lung cancer to damage of the respiratory tract, eyes and skin." Of course, these effects refer more to industrial workers who are exposed to chromium by inhaling contaminated dust or mist, or through skin contact by handling chromium-containing compounds.
But how does this translate into exposure by contaminated drinking water?
As Ken Cook pointed out in his testimony, the federal National Toxicology Program states that hexavalent chromium in drinking water shows "clear evidence of carcinogenic activity" in laboratory animals, and increases the risk of gastrointestinal tumors.
But there is certainly a lack of research about the effects in humans.
The truth is, we don't really know to what extent this probable carcinogen stimulates cancer in you and me, or at what levels of exposure. What we DO know is, carcinogenic chemicals should not be in your water, in any amount. And we also know that, in general, pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of toxins.
There's no way to know what health problems these tap water toxins will cause after decades of exposure. Effects are often cumulative and long-term, making it difficult to connect the dots between cause and effect.
Remember that chromium-6 is only one contaminant you should be concerned about in your drinking water. Most public water supplies are loaded with hazardous contaminants, such as disinfection byproducts, fluoride, and pharmaceutical drugs, to name just a few.
What's the Best Option for Safe, Pure Water?
Water should be your beverage of choice if you want to stay healthy.
But it should be purified water, and by this I do NOT mean bottled water from your supermarket. Bottled water is often drawn from the same municipal water systems as tap water, which means it often still contains chromium-6 and other toxins found in public water supplies.
Unfortunately, I've confirmed that carbon-based filters do not remove hexavalent chromium to any significant degree. The same goes for other basic water filters such as Brita and PUR.
Currently the only solution is to use a reverse osmosis system, which has been shown to filter out this toxin.
One of the best alternatives for pure, clean water is finding a gravity-fed spring in your area.
Spring water is naturally filtered by the earth and it is not pasteurized or heated like nearly all commercially bottled waters. Typically, springs are even monitored by the local municipalities for contaminants.
Natural spring water is "living water," in the same way that raw food is "living food," which is why it's some of the most health-restorative water on the planet.
Now, before you dismiss this idea because you think there are no such springs in your neck of the woods, there is a Web site called FindaSpring.com that will help you locate a spring near you.
The next best option is to filter the water that comes out of your tap, but there are benefits and drawbacks to virtually every water filtration system on the market. Currently I use a whole house carbon-based water filtration system, and prior to this I used reverse osmosis (RO) to purify my water.
You can read my latest article on water filtration here to help you decide what type of water filtration system will work best for you and your family.