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Meeting served to clarify standards, discuss ongoing efforts regarding the chemical
This week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson met with Senators Richard Durbin (IL), Mark Kirk (IL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Bob Casey (PA), Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Daniel Akaka (HI), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Jeff Bingaman (NM) and Jeff Merkley (OR) to brief them on the issue of chromium-6 in drinking water as it relates to this week’s Environmental Working Group (EWG) report.
At the meeting, Jackson described EPA’s current chromium-6 risk assessment, which is a review EPA immediately started in response to new science in 2008 showing a link between chromium-6 ingestion and cancer. This risk assessment, which would be the first step to updating the drinking water regulations, will be finalized after an independent scientific peer review in 2011. Jackson told the senators that based on the draft risk assessment, EPA will likely revise drinking water regulations to account for this new science. These revisions would only take place after an independent science panel has verified the underlying science.
Jackson told the senators that EPA currently requires testing for total chromium, which includes chromium-6. She noted that the testing does not distinguish what percentage of the total chromium is chromium-6 versus chromium-3, so EPA’s regulation assumes that the sample is 100% chromium-6. This means the current chromium-6 standard has been as protective and precautionary as the science of that time allowed.
Jackson also told the senators that according to the most recent data, all public water facilities are in compliance with the existing total chromium standards, but she agrees that chromium-6 is a contaminant of concern. She told the senators that people can have their water tested and install home treatment devices certified to remove chromium-6 if they are concerned about the levels of chromium-6 in their drinking water.
Jackson said that, while provocative, the EWG report is a self-described “snapshot” in time and does not provide a full, long-term picture of the prevalence of chromium-6 in U.S. drinking water. EPA will work with state and local officials to better determine how widespread and prevalent this contaminant is. Meanwhile, EPA will issue guidance to all water systems on how to test for and sample drinking water specifically for chromium-6. This guidance will provide EPA-approved methods and other technical information.
EPA also will offer technical expertise and assistance to the communities cited in the EWG study with the highest levels of chromium. This assistance will include providing technical experts to work with water system operators and engineers to ensure the latest testing and monitoring is being utilized.
Once EPA’s chromium-6 risk assessment is finalized, EPA will work quickly to determine if new standards need to be set. Based on the current draft assessment, which has yet to undergo scientific peer review, it is likely that EPA will tighten drinking water standards to address the health risks posed by chromium-6.