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Chromium 6 In Drinking Water: Background, Exposure, Toxicology

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, July 17, 2017 at 6:02 pm -0400

Wendy Spicer, M.S.  |  Scientific Contributor 

If you have seen the film Erin Brockovich, you are familiar with chromium 6 (Also known as hexavalent chromium and chromium(VI)) water contamination. The movie tells the story of a legal clerk turned activist who uncovers that a California utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), was knowingly dumping chromium 6 waste and contaminating the local water supply. Brockovich’s law firm, Masry and Vititoe, represented over 600 clients in a lawsuit against PG&E which settled for 333 million dollars in 1993. Despite the success and fame of this story, chromium 6 water contamination remains largely unregulated and problematic across the United States. A survey from 2013-2015 performed by the non-profit Environmental Working Group estimated that the water supplies serving over 218 million Americans is contaminated with chromium 6 levels that exceed the amount deemed safe.

What Is Chromium?

Chromium (Cr) is a naturally occurring element with many industrial applications, namely the production of alloys such stainless steel as well as leather tanning processes. Chromium compounds are also used as industrial catalysts and pigments, creating bright green, yellow, red and orange colors. Chromium plating, which adds a shiny polished mirror finish to steel or plastic, is commonly seen on household appliances and vehicles.

Chromium can be found in several oxidation states, meaning that they differ in the number of electrons surrounding the atom’s nucleus. Chromium 6 is the highly-toxic form of chromium. Industrial discharge is the largest source of chromium 6 in our environment and is released into air and wastewater by metal processing facilities, tannery facilities, chromate production, stainless steel welding, ferrochrome production, and pigment production. The major way that most people are exposed to chromium 6 is through contaminated food and water.

What Are The Adverse Health Effects Of Chromium in Water?

Not all forms of chromium are highly toxic to humans. For example, chromium(III) (also known as trivalent chromium) is an essential nutrient that plays a role in glucose, fat and protein metabolism by potentiating the action of insulin. It is also important to note that different chemical forms of the same metal, as well as particle size and form of ingestion, will all contribute to differences in the carcinogenic potential of each chromium containing compound.

There is strong evidence that chromium 6 is a human carcinogen (i.e. it causes cancer). In addition to many types of cancer, chromium 6 exposure is known to cause multiorgan toxicity such as renal damage, allergy and asthma. Breathing high levels of chromium 6 can cause irritation to the lining of the nose, and nose ulcers. Lung and respiratory cancers are more common in industrial workers (where it is more likely to be inhaled) while gastrointestinal tumors are more common in humans and animals exposed to chromium 6 in drinking water. Accidental or intentional ingestion of extremely high doses of chromium 6 compounds can cause acute respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hematological, hepatic, renal, and neurological distress which may result in death.

As always, feel free to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support. We will answer your questions about water quality even if you have no desire to purchase one of our products.

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4 Things To Know Before Testing Your Home’s Water For Lead

Eric Roy @ Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 12:58 am -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

Since the lead crisis in Flint put lead contamination in the national spotlight, our Tech Support Team is frequently asked questions about testing a home’s water for lead.   Many who reach out to us do so after having been duped by "testing companies" looking to make a quick buck.  This article discusses how to test your home's water for lead accurately & cost-effectively.  

Check For Free City Programs

Some large cities (like Washington DC, NYC, Chicago) have programs in place where residents can submit samples to the city for free lead testing.  We strongly encourage people to take advantage of this free service if it's available to them.  

Ignore Marketing Gimmicks And Find An Accredited Laboratory For Lead Testing

Most of the consumer “test kits” you find at hardware stores or large online retailers are almost always for low cost “screening” tests that are notorious for false alarms and inconclusive results, which allows the lab to upsell you on a more sensitive and accurate test.  Don't be fooled by marketing claims that a kit is "EPA Recognized" or "Tests to EPA Standards"... they don't mean anything.  With lead, you should simply find an accredited water quality lab in your area, and request their test kit.   We recommend finding a lab that uses EPA Method 200.8, which is an Inductively Coupled Plasma, Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) based method that gives accurate results at low concentrations.  

Sample Properly From The Faucet 

Because lead contamination occurs when water sits in lead-containing plumbing pipes, solder, and connections, it’s important that you sample from the faucet and collect at a time when your home’s water has not been used for at least 6 hours (like first thing in the morning)

We recommend collecting 3 samples:  one as soon as you turn on the faucet (also known as a "first draw"), and separate samples after the water has been running for 30 seconds, and 2 minutes.   The reason for collecting multiple samples in this interval is to sample water that sat overnight in different parts of the home’s plumbing and service line. 

Get Help Interpreting Lead Test Results

If all samples come back at zero, you’re probably in the clear for lead.  This is a good thing!

If any of the samples come back above zero, the interpretation gets quite a bit more complicated because EPA’s statements on lead toxicity and regulations are not in alignment.  On one hand, EPA states that there is no safe level of lead, which would imply that lead concentrations should be zero.  However, EPA has established a 15 ppb “Action Level” for lead… which most people (and some media outlets) interpret to mean “if my water is under 15 ppb, it’s safe.”  Unfortunately, that’s simply not true, because the 15 ppb Action Level threshold was established to tell whether or not city-wide corrosion control measures are having problems, not if a single sample contains too much lead.  Furthermore, the EPA allows for up to 10% of samples collected under the Lead and Copper Rule to test above the 15 part per billion Action Level (with no upper limit), and the city remains in compliance.

The reality is, if your water has lead in it after letting water sit in pipes for 6 hours or more, we highly recommend taking steps to reduce exposure, whether it's using a point of use water filter that is rated to remove lead, or allowing your water to run for 2 minutes before using it for drinking, cooking, or washing food.  

We encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to Technical Support when it comes to water.  Even though we do not offer lead testing, our water quality experts are happy to give advice through all stages of the lead testing process, free of charge, to make sure that you get answers in the most efficient way possible.  We do not take money from test labs for referrals.

Related Articles:

Does New York City Tap Water Expose More People To Lead Than Flint?
Pittsburgh's Lead Level Exceeds EPA Limits In 2016

Does Your Home's Pre-2014 Plumbing Contain Lead?