Chromium-6, the cancer-causing chemical best known for its role in the Erin Brockovich story, has been found at higher-than-recommended levels in the tap water supplying two-thirds of all Americans, according to a report from the Environmental Working Group.
EWG, a nonprofit research organization, analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data on more than 60,000 samples collected at water utilities in all 50 states between 2013 and 2015. They found chromium-6 at levels deemed unsafe by public health officials.
“Americans deserve to know if there are potentially harmful levels of a cancer-causing chemical in their tap water,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, told the PBS NewsHour.
Chromium-6 occurs naturally in the environment, but high quantities are also produced by industrial projects. Pollution can occur when these industrial sites fail to follow proper waste disposal methods, such as with unlined coal ash ponds.
“The difficulty with chromium-6 is how to set a standard to protect human health during windows of development,” Andrews said.
Even in small amounts, chromium-6 can cause skin burns, pneumonia, complications during childbirth and stomach cancer.