August 20, 2014

Erin Brockovich Chemical Still in California Drinking Water, NRDC Files Suit

It’s been more than 10 years since Julia Roberts made Erin Brockovich a household name. But the cause that made Brockovich famous is still making headlines. In a lawsuit filed against the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) yesterday, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Working Group say the agency has failed to protect Californians from hexavalent chromium in drinking water.  Brockovich proved industrial pollution contaminated drinking water sickening residents of Hinkley, California during the 1990s.

CDPH was supposed to have established a safe drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium eight years ago, but hasn’t done so, the NRDC says. “Millions of Californians are drinking toxic water today due to government neglect,” Nicholas Morales, attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “The State has not protected our drinking water supply from this carcinogen, so we’re going to the courts to put a stop to it. Clean drinking water is a precious resource, and it’s about time it’s treated as such.”

Hexavalent chromium is used to produce stainless steel, textile dyes, wood preservation and leather tanning. It’s also used as an anti-corrosive. It usually enters the drinking water supply through run off from industrial operations. It is found at two-thirds of Superfund sites, according to NRDC.

California is the only state that requires tap water be tested for hexavalent chromium. In 2008, more than 2,200 of 7,000 drinking water sources sampled were contaminated with hexavalent chromium, according to the Environmental Working Group. “These tests could only detect hexavalent chromium down to 1 ppb, more than 16 times higher than the state’s proposed public health goal. About 10 percent of the samples had levels of 5 ppb or higher,” the report states. That means more than 13.7 million Californians could be drinking water contaminated with at least 1 ppb of hexavalent chromium, according to the report.

In July, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced a  “Public Health Goal” for hexavalent chromium in drinking water of 0.02 parts per billion, a level that does not pose a significant health risk to people. That goal is the first step in the creation of a drinking water standard.

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