Tag Archives: chromium water filter

  • 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

  • Congress Could Block New Drinking Water Regulations With REINS Act

    In 1993, a law office file clerk named Erin Brockovich began investigating illnesses in the town of Hinkley, California, which residents suspected were linked to drinking water contamination. In 1996, Brockovich's firm settled a lawsuit with Pacific Gas & Electric for contaminating the town's water with chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium). In 2000, a Julia Roberts film made Brockovich and Hinkley famous. In 2012, there are still no drinking water standards for chromium-6. If Congressional supporters of the recently-passed REINS Act get their way, there never will be.

    Widespread Chromium-6 Tap-Water Contamination

    According to the Environmental Working Group , "At least 74 million Americans in 42 states drink chromium-polluted tap water, much of it likely in the cancer-causing hexavalent form." Under EPA enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act, there is a limit on total chromium in the water. Given that chromium-3 is an important nutrient found in food and taken as a dietary supplement while chromium-6 is a carcinogen, many public health experts think a separate chromium-6 standard is warranted. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Toxicology Program, along with agencies in California, have spent years studying the scientific evidence about how much chromium-6 in drinking water it takes to increase cancer risk. The black berkey water filters that come standard with every berkey water filter remove total chromium levels by up to 95%.

    Multi-Year Scientific Review of Chromium-6 and Tap Water Safety by Agencies

    EPA put a draft scientific assessment of the health risks of chromium 6 out for peer review in 2010, taking comments from non-agency scientists throughout 2011 in order to better inform the regulatory process. This is exactly the kind of regulatory work state agencies want EPA to be doing because they don't have resources to evaluate each of the hundreds of chemicals that may be in our water. Yet, 241 members of Congress, most of whom have no formal science training, think that they should be the ones to decide how much chromium you drink.

    REINS Act Would Make Every Regulatory Decision Subject to Political Vote

    The Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would, very simply, shut down the federal executive branch when it comes to new rules or regulations, whether on food safety, drinking water, health care, workers rights … How? If passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law, the REINS Act would require any new regulation that might cost more than $100 million dollars in cumulative economic impact (meaning cost to anyone) get a majority vote in both houses of Congresses before it could go into effect. Any rule or regulation not voted on by Congress within 70 days of its finalization by its respective agency would not be implemented.

    With 50 to 100 regulations issued by federal agencies annually, the REINS Act could create a vote-scheduling nightmare. David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains: "The bill could, in effect, impose a slow-motion government shutdown, and it would replace a process based on expertise, rationality and openness with one characterized by political maneuvering, economic clout and secrecy."

    Existing Checks & Balance System Makes REINS Act Unnecessary

    Ironically, Congress already has the power to block regulations coming out of EPA, FDA, USDA and all the other executive branch agencies, but not with a simple majority vote as they would under the REINS Act.

    In our three-branch system of government, the legislature passes the laws and the executive branch implements them. Numerous laws passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, specifically delegated detailed, science based regulations to the agencies. Subsequent Congresses were unhappy with some of those regulations and in 1996, Congress passed the Congressional Review Act, enabling a “resolution of disapproval" from both houses of Congress to override proposed regulations.

    However, because stopping a regulation under the Congressional Review Act requires a two-thirds majority in both houses to override the president, Congress has only managed this once since 1996, in 2001 to block ergonomics regulations out of the Department of Labor. The high hurdle for overriding regulations means an agency's decision must be truly misguided or genuinely opposed by the public for Congress to muster the political will to overturn it.

    REINS Act Would Create More Gridlock in Washington

    The REINS Act turns the regulatory review process on it's head, requiring members to rally political support for every single new regulation, no matter how carefully considered or scientifically sound. Considering how few of the top legistalative priorities of the most powerful members of Congress make it through the process, many political experts think the bill would bring Washington to a grinding halt.

    “The REINS Act would undermine our ability to protect children from harmful toys, prevent asthma and lung ailments resulting from pollution, and ensure that our small businesses can compete fairly in the marketplace. At the same time, it would force Congress to play a larger role in the regulatory process, leading to even more gridlock in Washington,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.

    The good news is that, as a stand-alone bill, the REINS Act has little chance of being passed by the Senate and signed by the president. Unfortunately, it is exactly the kind of measure that members like to attach to must-pass spending bills so it's very likely that we see it again.

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