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Chromium 6 in the water: Is it dangerous?

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People need water on a daily basis. People use water to wash their hands. People drink water. People use water to wash their clothes. The list goes on. That is why it is so critical that the water people use is safe. Residents of Norman, Oklahoma received a jolt recently when University of Oklahoma associate professor Robert Nairn, an expert on water quality, questioned the safety of the city’s water supply. The concern is about hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. Norman had a chromium 6 reading of 12.9 parts per billion, which was the highest among one-time samplings from 35 cities tested for a project commissioned by the Environmental Working Group. The question is, is the reading a serious cause for concern?

To put things in perspective, the total chromium in Norman’s ground wells consistently has tested below the federal and state limit of 100 parts per billion. “I think (the report) opened some eyes and we should keep our eyes open for chrome 6,” Nairn said. “But I don’t have a feel for chrome 6. What I can say is 6,000 (parts per billion) is something to worry about; 500 is something to worry about. But 12.9, I don’t know. We don’t know.” The chromium in the Norman area is thought to most likely occur naturally because of heavy metal content in the area’s groundwater.

But whether the threat is real or not, the reasons for concern are palpable. Chromium 6 was proved decades ago to cause cancer or respiratory ailments when inhaled and animal tests conducted in recent years by the National Toxicology Program revealed that it also can be carcinogenic when ingested orally.

The EPA is currently assessing the risk of chromium 6 and will determine what new standards may be required. Some states already have lowered the total chromium limit of 50 parts per billion for their water systems. There has also been a proposal in California which calls for limiting chromium 6 to 0.06 parts per billion.

Regardless of the seriousness of the results in Oklahoma, the severe health issues associated with chromium 6 should not be taken lightly. The levels in Norman might not be hazardous right now, but if the issue is not addressed, the possibility remains that the danger could escalate. Maybe the standard needs to be changed, maybe it doesn’t. The EPA will determine that. Either way, the results in Norman should not be ignored.

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  1. Bob says:
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    Okay so the aquifer is not limited to EXACTLY the city of normans water supply, why wouldn’t they tested around the area/state also to compare that. I doubt its limited to only Normans water supply.