WAMU 88.5 : News

Water Agencies Say Hexavalent Chromium Levels 'Extraordinarily Low'

Play associated audio
D.C. Water has released its 2010 drinking water quality report.
D.C. Water has released its 2010 drinking water quality report.

An environmental research group says it's detected hexavalent chromium in drinking water in D.C. and Bethesda, Md.

Hexavalent chromium was made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich, where a small town discovered its groundwater was polluted by the substance. Rebecca Sutton, with the Environmental Working Group, says the same compound is in the water here.

"We're concerned about it in terms of gastrointestinal cancer. It's a well-known inhalation carcinogen, but more recently we've noticed it can cause harm to us when we are drinking it in the water," Sutton says.

But the levels detected are tiny -- 0.19 parts per billion - that's thousands of times lower than the levels in the movie, and the levels shown to cause effects in rats. That's one reason that Tom Jacobus, head of the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies D.C.'s water, isn't concerned.

"We are at the very edge, I believe, of understanding the science of these extraordinarily low levels," Jacobus says.

In a statement, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides water in Montgomery County and Prince George's County, said: "WSSC drinking water meets or exceeds all current standards mandated by the EPA. WSSC has never had a drinking water violation."

D.C.'s water is tested weekly for chromium, and the Environmental Protection Agency says that the region's water is well within current limits on total chromium.

There is not, however, a limit on the specific and more harmful hexavalent chromium. The state of California has proposed a limit on hexavalent chromium of 0.06 parts per billion. At that level, the state estimates there is a one-in-1 million chance of getting cancer from drinking water.

Jacobus says D.C.'s level would put the risk at three-in-one million.

"And that's not a high risk in a lifetime for anything," he says.

The EPA is expected to finish analyzing whether a hexavalent chromium standard is necessary and what such a standard might be by summer 2011.


A Love Letter To Literature: Reading Gabo In 'The Paris Review'

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday. It would be hard to overstate the importance of his novels, but author Gustavo Arellano recommends getting to know him in a different medium.

In The Land Of Razor Clams, Dinner Hides Deep Within The Sand

Clam digging satisfies that primeval urge to go out into nature and find free food. And inveterate Washington state clam diggers admit they compete to get their daily limit of 15 clams.

Are Democrats Trying To Energize The Base With The Race Card?

Top Democrats have said recently that some GOP opposition to President Obama and his agenda is based on race. It's an explosive message that might drive Democratic voters to the polls.

Should College Dropouts Be Honored By Their Alma Maters?

From a Top Gun sequel starring drones to Howard University's pick of Puff Daddy as its commencement speaker, the Barbershop guys weigh in on the week's news.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.