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Tag Archives: california chromium

  • California's Underground Water Storage Plans Could be Risky

    Note: Yes, the black berkey filters that come standard with our berkey water filter systems do filter out and remove chromium 6 from the water. These berkey test results for chromium 6 can be found here.)

    With $2.5 billion allocated for water management projects within the state, California is considering alternative water storage options that will render the state more resilient to extreme droughts, which are expected to increase in the future with climate change. Many of the proposed new water storage solutions include underground storage as apposed to water storage in surface dams, which are more prone to water loss through evaporation.

    However, while having a diverse range of water management options is likely to help buffer the state from water losses during periods of prolonged drought, scientists at Stanford University are concerned about potential groundwater contamination from hazardous chemicals originating from both industrial and natural sources.

    Drought Affects on Folsom Lake, California Drought Affects on Folsom Lake, California

    Their biggest concern is chromium, which occurs naturally in rocks and soils, and depending on soil chemistry can be in one of two forms: 1) chromium-3, which is harmless; and 2) chromium-6, which is toxic and poses a risk to human health, causing symptoms such as throat-, nose-, eye- and skin irritations, and has also been linked to lung cancer.

    A new scientific study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, analyzed an extensive database of groundwater records, including water samples taken from drinking water wells, to map chromium hotspots around the state.

    While chromium does occur naturally, it is also released into soils by human activities. But, while people are becoming more aware of contamination from human sources — thanks to activists such as Erin Brockovich, who won a class action lawsuit she filed against Pacific Gas & Electric for chromium-6 contamination in 1993 — Scott Fendorf, a soil chemist at Stanford and co-author of the study, says "that's just not the only threat to groundwater. If you're thinking larger, the natural contaminants are really widespread," particularly in California, where the soil chemistry gives rise to chromium-rich rocks, he adds.

    Test Beaker Hand Agua Measure

    The researchers tested water from just under 16,000 wells spread across the state, and discovered that all of them had trace levels of chromium-6 present. However, some of the wells had chromium-6 present at levels that exceeded the maximum levels of 10 parts per billion recommended by the state as safe for drinking water.

    The sources of the chromium-6 contamination originates from several sources, including industrial (e.g. metal plating), agricultural (fertilizers), and natural sources.

    Chromium-6 is found in rocks located in areas where continental and oceanic plates meet, such as found in California along the San Andreas Fault where the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate come together. Serpentinite, with its distinct green coloration (indicating the presence of chromium-6), is a type of rock that is commonly found in these zones.

    But Fendorf believes that human activities can aggravate the formation of naturally occurring chromium-6. For example, applying chemicals to remove toxic industrial contaminants from soils — a cleanup method known as in-situ chemical oxidation — can transform the more benign chromium-3 into the much more hazardous chromium-6. According to Fendorf, over-extraction of water from underground aquifers for crop irrigation can also contribute to increased levels of chromium-6.

    "The water table is made of many stacked layers, alternating between sections of loose, wet gravel and sand and tightly-packed layers of fine clay," Fendorf explains. "The clay acts as a sponge with all this naturally chromium-rich dirty water in it," and when you starting overdrawing, you put pressure on the clays and start pushing dirty water into the main water that you're pumping out."

    While Fendorf's study shows that the more concentrated pockets of chromium contamination originate from industrial and agricultural sources, the impact of natural chromium affects a much wider area across the state and impacts a much larger proportion of drinking water sources.

    But even though chromium occurs throughout the state of California, neither state nor federal agencies have agreed on an acceptable safety level for the contaminant in drinking water. In 2014, California — which has historically recommended its own safety thresholds with regard to environmental regulations — set the maximum recommended safety level for chromium-6 in drinking water at 10 parts per billion due to potential risks associated with exposure. However, a 2017 court ruling suspended this recommendation as it failed to take the cost industries and agencies needed to incur to comply with these safety regulations into account.

    Currently, the EPA has set the safety threshold for chromium-6 at 100 parts per billion, while the states recommendations is half that amount at only 50 parts per billion. While they are currently revising these safety thresholds, you and your family may be exposed to dangerous levels of chromium-6 in your drinking water.

    Journal Reference

    Debra M. Hausladen, Annika Alexander-Ozinskas, Cynthia McClain & Scott Ferndorf. Hexavalent Chromium Sources and Distribution in California Groundwater. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018, 52 (15), pp 8242–8251; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b06627

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