UPDATE: Study Finds Chromium-6 in Madison's Drinking Water

UPDATED Tuesday, January 11, 2011 --- 6:15 p.m.

From the Madison Water Utility:
Madison Chromium-6 Test Results In

Madison—Madison Water Utility (MWU) has received the results of water samples analyzed for (hexavalent) chromium-6 by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene. The utility sampled four wells plus three other locations in the city. The data can be found at http://www.cityofmadison.com/water/waterQuality/Chromium.cfm.

While total chromium results have consistently been well below the allowable level of 100 ppb, the levels of Chromium-6 are relatively high in relation to test results from other parts of the country in a study done by an environmental group. The highest level detected in samples from seven locations in the City of Madison was 1.79 micrograms per liter, or parts per billion (ppb). Chromium-6 has been measured in other parts of the country at levels of 600 to 1,500 ppb.

The EPA does not have a health standard for chromium-6, nor does it require water utilities to test for the metal. The Madison Water Utility voluntarily tested seven sites within the City. No states in the country currently have a standard, but the State of California is currently proposing a health standard.

“These recent test data indicate that chromium-6 makes up the majority of total chromium in our water, and that it is present throughout our aquifer. Based on current science, we have no reason to believe that there is any health risk from the levels of chromium 6 in Madison’s drinking water supply,” said General Manager Tom Heikkinen. “We will continue to work closely with federal EPA officials on implementing any testing or treatment protocols they adopt.”

Dr. Tom Schlenker, Director of Public Health for Madison and Dane County said, “Stomach cancer rates in Dane County are very low, significantly lower than the U.S. average rate. It is unlikely that one part per billion chromium in our drinking water poses a risk but we must be attentive to what the EPA analysis will show.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently assessing the risk associated with chromium-6 in drinking water; a report should be available later this year. In the meantime MWU is working with Public Health Madison and Dane County to follow the evolving science closely and will be prepared to meet any future regulations regarding chromium-6, should they be deemed necessary. In addition, the Utility will continue to develop and implement a monitoring program for chromium-6 that will include all wells.

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UPDATED: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 --- 5:45 p.m.

From the City of Madison Water Utility:

Last week, Madison Water Utility collected 12 water samples that were analyzed for total and hexavalent chromium. Two samples were collected at Well 9, Well 14, Well 20 and Well 25 – one each of the raw groundwater and a second of the treated water as it was delivered to the distribution system. Four samples were also collected in the distribution system: two from a customer tap in the Well 20 service area and two locations primarily served by Well 14. All samples were analyzed by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.

The primary objectives of this initial monitoring were to determine:
1) The total chromium level at these four wells
2) The fraction of the total chromium in each sample that is hexavalent chromium
3) Whether treatment chemicals (chlorine/fluoride) alter the fraction of total chromium that is hexavalent chromium
4) Whether water age (time in the distribution system) affects the fraction of total chromium that is hexavalent chromium
5) Whether chromium concentrates in the distribution system or internal plumbing

With a single exception, the results for the wells tested demonstrate that 82-98% of the total chromium is chromium 6. The remaining fraction is chromium 3. These results are consistent with other work that has shown chromium in ground water to be predominantly chromium 6 while chromium in surface water is mostly chromium 3. Furthermore, chromium 6 appears to be ubiquitous in the environment. It is a trace component of our aquifer resulting in low levels in ground water and not likely a result of industrial pollution.

Treatment chemicals do not appear to alter the fraction of chromium that exists as chromium 6. In addition, the fraction of chromium 6 apparently does not change in the distribution system. However, additional samples will be collected to confirm this finding. Future monitoring will be consistent with the recent EPA recommendations for enhanced monitoring.

With the initial phase of our investigation now complete, the utility will develop a monitoring plan to test all Madison wells and representative locations in the distribution system. Results will continue to be posted on our website (www.madisonwater.org).

Visit our website to find out which well serves your home or business. You can also see the water quality data for the well(s) including the total chromium result. Please call the water utility (266-4654) if you need assistance.

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UPDATED Wednesday, December 22, 2010 --- 5:17 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will likely tighten drinking water standards to address potential health risks of a carcinogen recently found in the tap water of 31 cities across the country.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson issued a statement Wednesday saying she is concerned about the prevalence of the chemical hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6.

The Environmental Working Group previously released a study that analyzed drinking water across the country and found the five cities with the highest levels of chromium 6 were Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Riverside, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and San Jose, Calif.

The federal government's total chromium standard is 100 parts per billion. California has proposed a goal for safe limits for chromium 6 at 0.06 parts per billion.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Wednesday, December 22, 2010 --- 6:15 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chemical made famous in the movie "Erin Brockovich" now comes into view on a far wider scale.

The cancer-causing substance chromium 6 has been detected in tap water in more than 30 cities throughout the country, a chemical commonly discharged from metal plating plants, steel and pulp mills and leather-tanning facilities.

Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the public from chromium 6. And Boxer plans to co-sponsor legislation to set a deadline for the EPA to establish an enforceable standard for the chemical. The Senate's environment and public works committee will also hold a hearing on the issue come February.

Studies show chromium 6 can cause cancer in people, and damage the gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes and liver of animals.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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UPDATED: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 --- 9:40 p.m.

A study raises questions about the quality of Madison's drinking water and those in charge say they aren't taking any chances.

Tonight, only 24 hours after the results of an independent study make national headlines, Madison's Water Utility is responding.

When you talk purely about impact drinking water is near the top of the list.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children down a few glasses a day in the Madison area and some of them now have concerns.

Melissa Malott lives in Madison and works with Clean Wisconsin. She says, "I think that taking a precautionary approach and looking at what other health risks might be out there would be smart and appropriate."

A report by the national Environmental Working Group shows chromium-6 was found in a water sample taken from the kitchen tap of a Madison home last spring.

There are concerns chromium-6 can cause cancer.

Director of Public Health - Madison & Dane County Thomas Schlenker says, "It's not completely clear at this point if there is a human health hazard and if there is what the level of exposure would be."

Madison Water Utility General Manager Tom Heikkinen says, "There aren't very many conclusions you can draw from just one sample."

Chromium-6 made national headlines when it was exposed by Erin Brokovich in California.

Brokovich's work was later profiled in the popular movie named after her.

But Madison Water Utility officials insist their water is safe to drink.

Heikkinen says, "I personally am not concerned about the health of Madison's drinking water I drink several glasses of it every day and so do my children."

The water utility addressed the independent study at tonight's board meeting and say they will begin tests of their own after the first of the year.

Schlenker says, "I think the most important thing to understand is that the Madison Water Utility is on top of this."

The water utility says the Environmental Protection agency is currently testing if chromium-6 is dangerous and if so in what amounts.

When the results of those studies come out the utility will be set to react because of the testing they are set to begin.

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Posted Monday, December 20, 2010 --- 3:30 p.m.

Statement from the Madison Water Utility:

Madison—In response to a report by the national Environmental Working Group on possible chromium-6 contamination in water, the Madison Water Utility wants to emphasize that our water is safe to drink, according to General Manager Tom Heikkinen.

“Madison’s drinking water meets or exceeds all current standards mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and we have never had a drinking water violation,” said Heikkinen. “Our water is routinely tested for nearly 200 chemical substances. The amount of testing performed by Madison as part of its water quality monitoring exceeds the regulatory requirements established by the EPA and the Wisconsin DNR.”

No water utility has the resources to test for the thousands of substances in our environment, many occurring naturally, that are now able to be detected at micro levels by new scientific methods. Therefore we continue to support research by the EPA, the Water Research Foundation, and other government and scientific organizations. The EPA is currently evaluating new data about chromium 6, and those results are expected in 2011.

The Environmental Working Group is an advocacy group, not a scientific organization. A single sample from one tap does not represent the whole water system, nor have scientists determined at what level hexavalent chromium in drinking water affects humans. Even so, the utility is planning to test for hexavalent chromium so that we can provide the public with that information.

Madison Water Utility remains committed to providing clean, healthy, and safe drinking water to our customers.