California Regulators Set First-in-Nation Drinking Water Limit on Chromium-6

California regulators made a landmark decision on Wednesday by voting to establish a drinking water limit on hexavalent chromium, a toxic compound famously highlighted in the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

The new rule, which targets chromium-6, is expected to significantly reduce cancer and kidney disease cases resulting from long-term ingestion, according to state officials. The State Water Resources Control Board unanimously approved the proposal, which now awaits approval from the Office of Administrative Law to take effect.

This standard, the first of its kind in the nation, could pave the way for other states to adopt similar regulations. More than 200 million Americans are estimated to have chromium-6 in their drinking water, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

Until now, California had combined its drinking water standard for chromium-6 with the less toxic trivalent chromium. The new limit for chromium-6 is set at 10 parts per billion, roughly equivalent to about 10 drops of water in a swimming pool.

Board member Sean Maguire acknowledged the mixed feelings surrounding the decision, emphasizing California’s leadership in setting this standard compared to the rest of the nation.

However, community members and health advocates argue that California’s limit does not sufficiently protect public health from the metal. They are advocating for a lower limit closer to the public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion, which scientists believe poses minimal health risks.

The implementation of this new limit will come with financial implications, as public water systems estimate annual costs ranging from $483,446 to $172.6 million to monitor and treat water that exceeds the standard.

Despite concerns, the board’s decision reflects ongoing efforts to address the environmental and health impacts of chromium-6 contamination, a topic that gained public attention following the events depicted in “Erin Brockovich.”

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