It’s Never Too Late To Regulate Toxic Chemicals

Will Chrome-6 Regulations Pass? It’s Water Report Time & A New Water Pollution Logo Designed By Kids

It’s been a long time coming—just imagine me soulfully belting this verse. A health-wrecking toxin has been dumped in every city in this country for decades, but a national standard could be on the way.

An amendment called “the hexavalent chromium provision,” which is part of the expansive $715 billion infrastructure bill known as “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation” (INVEST) in America Act, passed in the House last week (Thursday, July 1). The provision amends the Safe Drinking Water Act, calling on the U.S. EPA to establish a maximum contaminant level goal and write a regulation limiting hexavalent chromium in drinking water.

“Since 2016, I have insisted on environmental justice for my constituents who have been affected by alarming levels of chromium-6 in their drinking water supply,” said Texas Representative Al Green, who sponsored the amendment in a statement. “There has not been a safe drinking water standard for this known carcinogen.”

Currently, the agency has set a drinking water level of 100 parts per billion for all forms of chromium, which frankly hasn’t helped anyone.

Also, let’s set the record straight. Headlines love to call hexavalent chromium (also known as chromium-6) the “Erin Brockovich chemical.” I assure you it was here long before me. I may have helped expose its dangers, but the real story is how this chemical came to be in every town across the country and how it has polluted our drinking water.

A 2016 analysis of federal data from drinking water tests throughout the country shows that hexavalent chromium contaminates water supplies for more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states.

Federal regulations monitor total chromium in water, which includes the two most common forms: chromium-3, a naturally occurring metallic element, and chromium-6, the toxic version used by industry to make everything from motor vehicle bumpers to textile dyes, wood preservation, anti-corrosion products, and more. We don’t differentiate between the two at the federal level and that’s a big problem.

Water systems are only required to test for general chromium, which is a bit confusing since one type of chromium is a known carcinogen and one isn’t.

A Pervasive Contaminant

In industry, chromium-6 was the gold standard for corrosion resistance, and it was added to paints, primers, plastics, stainless steel, and surface coatings to increase durability. It was also used in cooling towers for office buildings and manufacturing plants throughout the country, because hexavalent chromium is one of the most efficient and cheap corrosion inhibitors available.

But it’s highly toxic.

In 1980, the National Toxicology Program and the Department of Health and Human Services published The First Annual Report on Carcinogens, listing chromium-6 as a human carcinogen, and in 1986 The California EPA Air Resources Board identified it as a Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC) that causes both acute and chronic problems such as yellow teeth, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, pneumonia, skin ulcers, dermatitis, and lung, nasal, and sinus cancer.

By 2007, a two-year study conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) showed that animals ingesting hexavalent chromium developed malignant tumors. Similarly, a draft toxicological review by the EPA in 2010 found that hexavalent chromium in tap water is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with a group of 10 senators about the issue back then and released a statement outlining the EPA’s next steps saying, “Today, I am announcing a series of actions that the EPA will take over the coming days to address chromium-6 in our drinking water. It is clear that the first step is to understand the prevalence of this problem….”

It’s been decades and we are still hoping for action.

When tap water from a public water system exceeds the federal standard for chromium, consumers are supposed to be notified. But even after all the hype around hexavalent chromium, I would guess that most people wouldn’t know what to do if they received this notice. It’s time to change that and let your city, state, and federal officials know that you do not want this cancer-causing contaminant in your drinking water.

My hope is that this important legislation, which is the first big infrastructure proposal to clear the House, will pass in the Senate too, as regulations are long overdue.

It’s Water Report Time!

The first step to knowing what’s in your water is to get a copy of your Consumer Confidence Report (sometimes called a Water Quality Report) from your water company. This annual water report is provided to customers by July 1 each year and will give you details about contaminants that have been detected in your water system. It should come in the mail with your water bill. If you pay your bill online, you should be able to go directly to the water utility’s website and get a copy or request a downloadable PDF.

Each report should list your water source—whether it’s a lake, river, or public well. It will also list the contaminants found in your source water and tell you what levels have been detected. Contaminants found to have a higher level that what the EPA recommends should be listed. Be sure to take note of any violations—meaning the contaminant has been detected at a higher level than the law allows. If violations are listed, the report should also include how those contaminants may affect your health and how the water utility is working to address the problem.

Have questions about what’s in your report? Send them our way! We’ll dedicate an upcoming newsletter to answering your biggest Q’s.

Calling All Young Artists

I love this creative contest happening in Wheeling, West Virginia. I hope all our water treatment folks take note and institute something similar in your town! We’ve got to get more people excited to learn about their water.

The City of Wheeling’s Water Pollution Control Division (WPCD) is seeking a new logo and asking young people in Ohio County to get creative and assist with a design that will be featured on the facility’s new signage.

Industrial Pretreatment & FOG Coordinator Mike Chiazza explained that the organization desires to change the logo to something more environmentally appealing and to do that, WPCD would like to conduct a contest where area kids, in first through eighth grades, design the new artwork.

“The new logo is part of a larger effort to change the public’s perception of what we do down at the wastewater treatment plant,” Mike said. “We are trying to rebrand from wastewater to water reclamation/reuse, because ultimately whatever ends up on the ground or in your sink ends up being used by someone else down the river.”

He hopes the contest will give the next generation a stake in what the city does environmentally and will make them more conscious of how their individual actions impact the environment, specifically their local streams, creeks and river.

“Numerous studies have shown that a kid’s involvement in environmental issues has a positive influence on the attitudes of their parents and the adults in their lives regarding what can be done to protect the environment,” he said.

Mike stressed the logo does not need to be expertly drawn. The concept and substance are more important than artistic ability.

Concurrent with the logo contest, WPCD will also be conduct an essay contest, open to youth in grades six through eight, in which students should answer the question: What does water pollution mean to me and how can we as good citizens protect our local water resources?

The essay needs to be an original creation and should be 350-500 words.

Each first-place winner will receive a $500 gift card and will be recognized by the Mayor and City Council. Judging for each contest will be conducted by WPCD personnel and celebrity judges.

Entries for both contests will be accepted until September 15 and should be submitted to Mike Chiazza via the USPS at 2516 Main St., Wheeling, W.Va. 26003 or via email at with “Contest” in the subject line. Entries should include the student’s name, grade, school and contact information (please include parent or guardian information as well).

Right on, Mike! And sending lots of luck to all the young artists in Wheeling.