American Morning

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December 21st, 2010
02:09 AM ET

Contaminated tap water: Is it in your faucet?

(CNN) - Report: Harmful chemical found in tap water of 31 U.S. cities

Millions of Americans in at least 31 U.S. cities could be drinking tap water contaminated with the harmful chemical hexavalent chromium, according to a report released Monday by the non-profit Environmental Working Group. While the dangerous carcinogen, otherwise known as chromium-6, may sound foreign to most people, perhaps the name Erin Brockovich will ring a bell. After chromium-6 was discovered in the water supply of Hinkley, California, Brockovich helped bring about a lawsuit that ultimately ended in 1996 with the utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric, paying more than $330 million in damages.  Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California, top the non-profit organization's list of cities with water supplies contaminated by chromium-6.

Today on American Morning, Kiran Chetry and John Roberts talk to Ken Cook, president and co-founder, Environmental Working Group. He describes how to tell if your water is safe, and what needs to be done on a governmental level. Watch the interview below.  And for more, read the rest of the CNN story below and check out the full report at: to see how your city is affected.

(CNN story continues)

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified the toxin as a carcinogen to humans if it is inhaled.  The EPA is proposing to classify it as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" if ingested as part of a risk assessment the agency is currently conducting. The agency says water utilities are required to test for total chromium levels in the water but not explicitly for chromium-6. Chromium-6 is a natural byproduct of total chromium.

"In order to protect people's health, EPA has had drinking water standards for total chromium, which includes chromium-6," the agency said in a statement to CNN. "When this scientific assessment is finalized in 2011, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information, including the Environmental Working Group's study, to determine if a new standard needs to be set."

"I was expecting to find hexavalent chromium in some of the cities we checked, but I didn't expect it to be so widespread," said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group and the lead author of the study.

Sutton said there is a well-documented corollary between exposure to chromium-6 and a greater risk of stomach cancer in humans. Additionally, there is ample animal evidence showing a broad risk of gastrointestinal tumors in rats and mice exposed to the toxin, she said.

Worse, skipping tap water in favor of bottled water does not guarantee you'll be protected.

"Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water," said Sutton. "We just don't have any guarantee that hexavalent chromium isn't in that water."

So how can you protect yourself? Sutton says your best bet is buying an effective water filter.

"Getting the water filter is a great way to protect yourself and your family," says Sutton. "It's a step you can take yourself; you don't have to wait for government action."

Samples from the test provided a "one-time snapshot" of water systems that serve 26 million people, the Environmental Working Group said. But the organization said the results show that more federal regulation of the cancer-causing chemical is needed.

The National Toxicology Program has said that chromium-6 in drinking water shows "clear evidence of carcinogenic activity."

California's state environmental agency has proposed capping levels of the chemical in drinking water at 0.06 parts per billion. The Environmental Working Group said 25 of the cities it tested showed exceeded that level.

To conduct its test, the organization said it recruited volunteers in 35 cities to collect tap water samples "from unfiltered taps in homes or in public buildings such as hospitals, libraries and malls," the report said.

Here are the cities

1. Norman, Oklahoma
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
3. Riverside, California
4. Madison, Wisconsin
5. San Jose, California
6. Tallahassee, Florida
7. Omaha, Nebraska
8. Albuquerque, New Mexico
9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
10. Bend, Oregon
11. Salt Lake City, Utah
12. Ann Arbor, Michigan
13. Atlanta, Georgia
14. Los Angeles, California
15. Bethesda, Maryland
16. Phoenix, Arizona
17. Washington, D.C.
18. Chicago, Illinois
19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
20. Villanova, Pennsylvania
21. Sacramento, California
22. Louisville, Kentucky
23. Syracuse, New York
24. New Haven, Connecticut
25. Buffalo, New York
26. Las Vegas, Nevada
27. New York, New York
28. Scottsdale, Arizona
29. Miami, Florida
30. Boston, Massachusetts
31. Cincinnati, Ohio

Not detectable: Indianapolis, Indiana; Plano, Texas; Reno, Nevada; San Antonio, Texas. For information on drinking water in these cities, refer to the full Enviormental Working Group report at:

Filed under: American Morning • Health
soundoff (3 Responses)

    THIS IS Crazy!!!!! instead of sending money to help other countries with thier water supply,they NEED to focus on Americans' water supply FIRST.Does this country really try to PROTECT OUR FELLOW AMERICANS? I DONT THINK SO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  2. Edward Quinto

    May I recommend the use of microbial bioluminescence immobilized in small paper-discs as a simple and inexpensive method yet very sensitive for the detection of heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals in our drinking water, bottled or tap, at ppm and ppb detection limits. Due to our highly industrialized world, carcinogens like hexavalent chromium have already found their way into our drinking water, foods and the environment and we can use bioluminescence to ferret them out. For the cheap price of only a tablespoon of salt, we can effectively harness the good blue light of bioluminescence to ensure safe drinking water, healthy foods and a clean environment for us. So much can be done with the use of bioluminescence, the cold blue light for a greener world. Please check out videos on bioluminescence that I posted in YouTube in time for the yuletide season at and The best of cheers for the holidays – Blue Light Green World.

    December 21, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  3. Ken Higgins, FL

    I am suing the city. I asked for their water quality test results

    December 21, 2010 at 8:42 am |