While some people may recognize chromium-6 as the harmful chemical pollutant in the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, most of us probably thought the problem was handled long ago. However, recent studies analyzing water quality across the country found levels of contaminants in all 50 states. Furthermore, the levels of chromium-6 present in over 150 New Jersey water systems indicate that our state’s drinking water supply may pose serious health risks.
EWG Finds Contaminants in NJ Drinking Water
The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy nonprofit, recently released their findings from nearly 50,000 local water utilities in all 50 states. In New Jersey for example, the group found 14 contaminants in Summit’s water supply that exceeded the recommended health guidelines from 2012-2017. Although chromium-6 was present in the tap water of every county in the state of New Jersey, the highest concentrations were discovered in Bergen and Burlington Counties. Nevertheless, the group’s research breathed new life into the ongoing dilemma between established legal limits for contaminants and what is now considered safe for consumption.
The Harmful Effects of Chromium-6
While many companies have used chromium-6 for processes such as chrome plating, steel making and lowering the water temperature in the cooling towers of power plants, studies have linked this chemical to liver damage, lung cancer, and reproductive and developmental problems. Its usage in power companies’ cooling towers was revealed as a threat by Erin Brockovich when she investigated the water quality in the southern California town of Hinkley. Although her class action lawsuit against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) brought attention to the toxic effects of chromium-6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to establish safe limits for it in our drinking water. Indeed, in 2016 Erin Brockovich released a statement shortly after these findings became public affirming that even low levels of chromium-6 can cause cancer.
EPA Drags Its Heels on New Health Standards
According to the EWG, California is the only state to regulate chromium-6 at the moment. Their limit for tap water is 10 ppb (parts per billion). The EPA, on the other hand, has yet to impose a deadline for even drawing up a health standard regarding the presence of chromium 6. Environmental safety advocates point out that an established health standard is necessary before the EPA can regulate a chemical. At present, the EPA sets a total chromium limit (includes chromium-3, chromium-5, and chromium-6) of 100 ppb, which New Jersey currently follows.
Unfortunately, the EPA total chromium standard does not adequately protect the consumer. Moreover, efforts to determine a safe standard for chromium-6 in New Jersey have stalled over the past decade. For instance, New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, a panel of scientific advisers, recommended lowering the acceptable limit to 0.07 ppb in 2010. Nevertheless, the institute stopped meeting shortly thereafter due to a lack of members and didn’t restart their efforts until 2014.
David Andrews, a senior scientist and co-author of the chromium-6 report, claims it’s been almost a decade since studies revealed that chromium-6 can be toxic if ingested while the EPA’s drinking water regulation is based on the potential of skin rashes. He also mentions that an updated health standard was published in 2011, yet it still hasn’t been finalized.
Meanwhile the EPA has left itself open to charges that they’re hitting the brakes on any new recommendations due to pressure from the chemical and electric power industries. As evidence, environmental advocates cite the EPA’s refusal to add any new contaminants to their toxic chemicals list over the past 20 years.
Legal to Drink But Is It Safe?
The EWG claims that many contaminants that are legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act can still harm us. Consequently, they contend that our efforts to provide safe drinking water are failing.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA can only regulate a contaminant like chromium-6 after it meets the following criteria:
- The contaminant may affect the health of the public.
- The contaminant is known to or is likely to occur in public water systems with a frequency and at a level to cause public health concerns.
- The contaminant, in the sole judgement of the EPA Administrator, the regulation of the contaminant would result in “a meaningful opportunity” to reduce health risks for those using public drinking systems.
As a result, our current system places the onus on us to prove that something in our water is harmful instead of having to prove that it’s safe to drink. In addition, the costs associated with filtration and purification usually fall to the homeowners or businesses in an area with contaminated water instead of the industry that released the harmful chemicals in the first place.
Techniques for Improving Local Drinking Water
Regardless of how our water supply is regulated by the federal and state governments, there are important steps homeowners and business owners can take to make their water safer to drink.
- Manage storm water runoff. The number one cause of water pollution in the U.S. is storm water runoff. Since rain and snow gather bacteria and chemicals as they make their way into our storm drains, the bodies of water that feed into them can easily become contaminated.
- Watch what you put down the drain. Many of the chemicals and the toxins that we wash down our drains end up in our water supply despite the best efforts of sewer treatment plants. For this reason, it’s always better to opt for environmentally friendly cleaners and toiletries whenever possible.
- Limit sprinklers or lawn watering. Too much watering can cause fertilizers to run deeper into the soil and groundwater, which are a main source for drinking water.
- Install a water purification system. One of the best ways to have a clean and safe drinking water supply is to use a water filtration system. As a drinking water system provider, Aqua Fresca supplies bottle less water cooler systems for businesses throughout New Jersey. In addition, our Reverse Osmosis membrane filters out water impurities, so you never have to worry about chromium 6 in your water supply again. While other systems may promise clean water, only our state-of-the-art Reverse Osmosis process completely eliminates the kinds of contaminants which have been detected in New Jersey water supplies recently.
With all the recent publicity surrounding harmful chemicals in New Jersey water systems, it becomes difficult to know what the next steps are for protecting yourself and your family or employees from unsafe drinking water. To make matters worse, the federal government seems to be at a standstill regarding new standards of protection based on recent scientific data. Consequently, most of us are faced with the difficult challenge of knowing that our water may meet current albeit outdated legal guidelines while still posing significant health risks.
While we can take important steps to improve the quality of our local drinking water, one of the best ways to ensure a safe drinking water supply at work is to install water coolers from Aqua Fresca. With our systems, you can take advantage of innovative technology that filters out harmful contaminants like chromium-6 and provides the best-tasting, cleanest water possible.