December 20, 2010 in News, Region

Group warns of carcinogen in Bend drinking water

 


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A Washington, D.C. environmental advocacy group reported that 31 U.S. cities, including Bend, were found to have the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium in their tap water.

Conducted by the Environmental Working Group of Washington, D.C., the report listed the drinking water of Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; Riverside, Calif.; and Madison, Wis. as having the highest concentrations of the chemical.

Bend is the only Oregon city sampled, and had the 10th-highest level of the cities studied.

No Washington, Idaho or Montana cities were included in the research.

State, federal and local drinking water officials say they’ll review the findings. Hexavalent chromium is the toxic form of chromium, which can enter water through erosion from natural deposits or from industrial discharges from the manufacture of stainless steel, metal plating, wood products or textiles. The point sources in the study were not identified.

The new results pose a challenge for utilities that are detecting dozens of unregulated substances in treated drinking water, including pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals that can pass unfiltered through conventional treatment methods. Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, can be found naturally in the environment but also is released by industry into waterways.

Researchers say that the threat of chromium-6 is most acutely focused on development of stomach cancers.

“For years, scientists assumed this wasn’t a problem because acids in our stomachs can convert chromium-6 into chromium-3, an essential nutrient,” said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group. “Newer science is showing our stomachs can’t take care of everything, which means the dangerous form of chromium is getting into our bodies and can cause damage.”

Industry has fought for years to block tougher federal and state limits on chromium, which has contaminated drinking-water supplies across the country. The movie “Erin Brockovich” dramatized one of the most high-profile cases: a miles-long plume of hexavalent chromium dumped by a utility in rural Hinkley, Calif., that led to a $333-million legal settlement over illnesses and cancers.

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