Water industry opposes revised chromium-6 limit

By Jim Steinberg, The Sun

LOS ANGELES — Water industry groups voiced opposition Friday to a controversial proposal to set a standard on the amount of a cancer-causing metal in the state’s drinking water.

Water utilities and water associations far outnumbered water consumers during a public hearing at the Metropolitan Water District, held to provide comment on the proposal, which would set a threshold for what the state of California says is a safe level of chromium-6 in drinking water.

With near unanimity, the water industry argued against the state Department of Public Health’s proposed maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per billion for chromium-6.

Chromium-6 is a carcinogen, which became notorious in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich”.

The metal was at the heart of the San Bernardino County town of Hinkley’s battle with PG E after years of dumping water tainted with chromium compounds into local waste ponds. PG E ultimately settled for $333 million over illnesses and cancers that the movie made famous.

But across Southern California, there are concerns about the metal, including in the San Fernando Valley, where a plume left by the former aerospace industry has Glendale spending millions on chromium-6 research.

Water groups attacked the state’s proposal on two fronts: scientifically, the change will provide virtually no additional public health advantages, and state estimates of the costs to meet the new maximum level of chromium-6 in water far underestimate the reality.

“The health benefits are overrated,” said David Kimbrough, Pasadena Water and Power water quality general manager.

He and others referred to recent scientific studies that appear to indicate chromium-6 might be less hazardous than thought, while the costs will be more than the $158 million the CDPH estimated for the annual capitol investment and operational expenses.

Hinkley resident and community leader Daron Banks brought a “human dimension” to the conversation, which involved mostly numbers.

“We have lived the devastation of chromium-6 in Hinkley. The community has been destroyed by it, our school is closed,” Banks said, before he listed a number of Hinkley residents he said died from chromium-6.

“And that’s just cancer,” he said.

Recently, at 2 a.m., Banks said he heard his wife calling his name. She had passed out in the hallway and couldn’t get up — the result of a spike in blood pressure, he said.

High blood pressure, problems with reproductive organs in women, are just a couple of the issues many Hinkley residents believe are associated with chromium-6.

“I felt like a lamb among wolves,” Bank said of his presence at the hearing, held in an auditorium inside Metropolitan Water District headquarters, adjacent to Union Station.

The public comment period on the proposed limit ended Friday. State Department of Public Health officials said they will evaluate public comments as they zero in on a final figure for the first chromium-6 standard in the country.

Chemical and water industry officials projected a different viewpoint on chromium-6 than did Banks.

Patrick Lantz, representing the American Chemistry Council, which represents the nation’s largest chemical firms, cited new “mode of action” studies indicating that water containing less than 210 parts per billion of chromium-6, poses little risk of cancer.

“The current MCL is in California is fully protective of human health,” Lantz said. “California Department of Public Health should reissue an MCL that is both health-protective and economically feasible,” he said.

The state’s current maximum contaminent level for total chromium — which includes chromium-6 and chromium-3 — in water is 50 parts per billion.

Southern California Water Committee Executive Director Richard Atwater called the proposal “costly and unnecessary.”

Banks argued that the new MCL should be closer to the state public health goal, which is .02 parts per billion of chromium-6.

Banks notes that the proposed MCL is 500 times higher than the recommended MCL.

The public health goal is set by the state’s Department of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to be used as a guideline for the CDPH as it sets an MCL.

The CDPH also evaluates technical feasibility and costs as it sets an MCL.

David Michalko, general manager of the Valencia Heights Water Co. in West Covina, was among those to note that the costs for small water systems would be disproportionately high for the new standard, if it is adopted.

“Persons served by very small water systems impacted by chromium-6 should expect their water bills to increase by more than $5,000 per year,” said Atwater of the Southern California Water Committee.

Source: http://www.sbsun.com/environment-and-nature/20131011/water-industry-opposes-revised-chromium-6-limit