Know Your Contaminant: Chromium-6

While the Hexavalent Chromium may be best known from the infamous Hinkley Groundwater contamination case that inspired the film Erin Brockovich, this contaminant is nowhrere near gone, and is actually increasingly finding it’s way into a shocking amount of the public’s water supply. What’s more, theres reason to worry — Chromium-6 is a potentially dangerous contaminant that’s been making it’s way into our water supply for decades.

Let’s take a deep dive to find out exactly what Chromium-6 can do to you, how it may have gotten into your water, and how to find out if it’s running through your taps.

The Impact of Chromium-6 Contamination

According to the World Health Organization, the effects of Chromium-6 consumption can be both wide-ranging and very serious.

Depending on just how much Chromium-6 is consumed, the effects can be different, but at the highest levels Chromium-6 can cause gastrointestinal disorders, hemorrhagic diathesis, and even convulsions. These are all incredibly serious effects, but at over 1 gram in total, this level of consumption is extremely unlikely.

The most well known risk associated with Chromium-6 consumption are the carcinogenic ones. Scientific American has reported that ingestion has been clearly linked to tumor development. In studies, mice and rats who were fed water laced with Chromium-6 “…contracted malignant tumors in their small intestines and mouths.” This is a clear link to the Hinkley case, in which residents of the California desert town saw what is known as a “cancer cluster” of diagnoses in and around the area.

The chemical can also cause skin burns, pneumonia, complications during childbirth and stomach cancer, even in small amounts. Altogether, these are quite serious effects, so monitoring intake is of truly great importance.

Where Chromium-6 Contamination Comes From

The sources of Chromium-6 in groundwater can be both natural and man-made. Firstly, Chromium-6 can occur naturally, being found in rocks and other natural deposits; over time, these begin to erode down and their contents are leached into the groundwater.
The other major source of Chromium-6 is through industrial processes. Most of the more dangerous levels of contamination has been linked to these sources, and they occur when industrial sites fail to follow proper waste disposal methods.

How to Know if Your Water has Chromium-6 Contamination

While high levels of Chromium-6 contamination do leave a distinct taste, at lower levels the contaminant is undetectable to the human palate.
A wide study carried out by the Environmental Working Group in 2016 across all 50 states tracked Chromium-6 levels, so a good starting point may be with them. While they found the highest rates in Oklahoma, Arizona, and California, some samples in every state surpassed that federally imposed guidelines. To check out levels where you live, visit their map here: Embedded content: https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2016-chromium6-lower-48.php#.WxWaaEgvzcs

For an accurate look at whether the water from your own tap contains chromium-6, the only real way to find out is through a formal water test. Ultimately, Chromium-6 is a potentially life threatening contaminant, so knowing whether or not your water is at risk is an important step to take.

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