AWWA Applauds New Film "Erin Brockovich"

March 20, 2000
The American Water Works Association touted the new film "Erin Brockovich" for bringing much-needed attention to the damage water polluters do to drinking water quality and public health. The film, focuses on a lawsuit against a large power company guilty of polluting the well water of a small town in California.

"Erin Brockovich" tells the story of what happens when polluters have free reign over a community's water supply," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. "If our source water is not adequately protected, the irresponsible acts of polluters can have lethal consequences for years. We must never forget that the water they pollute ends up in our tap, bath and bottle."

The film is based on the lawsuit filed by the Town of Hinkley, California, against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a large power company. The town contended that toxic chromium dumped into a pond by PG&E during the 1950's had contaminated its water wells.

Toxic chromium has been linked to a number of health ailments, including lung and sinus cancer. Hinkley residents attributed many of their serious illnesses, including lung, breast, stomach, kidney and prostate cancer to the chromium contamination. Documentation proving that PG&E knew that it was polluting the town's wells, but did nothing to stop it was presented during the litigation. In 1996, PG&E settled the case for $333 million.

"What happened to the people of Hinkley is simply unacceptable," concluded Hoffbuhr. "Our source water must remain as clean as possible, and those who pollute it must face stiff penalties for their actions."

According to an AWWA fact sheet, Chromium occurs naturally in the environment as chrome iron ore or chromite. It is rarely found naturally in water, yet widely distributed in soils and plants. Chromium in this form is an important contributor to human health.

Chromium can also exist in a toxic state as hexavalent chromium that is associated with industrial waste. It is used in metal alloys including stainless steel, protective coatings on metal, magnetic tapes and pigments for paints, cement, paper, rubber and other materials.

Chromium is also used for numerous industrial purposes, including as a component of wood preservatives and in photochemical processing and industrial water treatment. Hexavalent chromium exposure at acute levels can potentially cause skin irritation or ulceration. Long-term exposure to hexavalent chromium can lead to liver damage, kidney damage, as well as damage to the nerve tissues. Hexavalent chromium has been successfully eliminated from entering the environment as a result of past and current National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) industrial discharge limits. The current maximum contaminant level for chromium is 100 parts per billion (ppb.) Chromium levels in community water supplies can be treated by using established treatment methods. These methods include coagulation/filtration, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, or in some cases lime softening.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has not established a link between exposure to chromium at low levels and increased cancer rates. According to the Toxics Release Inventory, chromium compound releases to land and water totaled close to 200 million pounds, with 99 percent released to land, during the period 1987 to 1993. These releases were primarily from industrial organic chemical industries. The states with the most significant releases of chromium to water and land were Texas, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Utah, Arizona, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Idaho. The chemical manufacturing industry and the combustion of natural gas, oil and coal are the largest sources of chromium emission in the atmosphere For additional information, contact Doug Marsano at (303) 347-6138, or visit the AWWA Web site at www.awwa.org

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