Officials press state to toughen water standards

The Associated Press
Thursday October 26, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A panel of scientists urged state officials to toughen standards for chromium 6 in water, stating there is compelling evidence that it causes cancer. 

In testimony Tuesday during a joint hearing of state regulatory agencies, toxicology professor John Froines of the UCLA School of Public Health said studies have shown chromium 6 to be a carcinogen when inhaled through air, which makes it a likely carcinogen when ingested through water. 

The state should quickly take action to purge water supplies of the chemical, even though scientists and regulators are still debating its risk, said Froines, chairman of the advisory board for the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. 

“You can take the political, legal and economic argument (against the tougher standard), and it will go on for 10 years,” Froines said. “We should assume the correctness of the state’s public health goal for chromium 6 and begin from there.” 

Froines was among nearly two dozen experts, regulators and citizens who testified before the joint hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee and the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safe and Toxic Materials. 

The hearing, which was attended by about 200 people, was called by state Senators Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles. 

Schiff called on the state Department of Health Services to issue an “action level” directive, which would not have the force of law, but would urge local water agencies to meet a chromium standard as quickly as possible. 

Officials with the state Department of Health Services say it could take five more years to implement a new standard, which prompted Tuesday’s hearing. The agency has urged public water systems to test for chromium 6 and was drafting emergency regulations to require testing by the end of the year, said David Spath, the department’s drinking water chief. 

It was unlikely that the department would issue an emergency regulation, because chromium 6 is not an immediate public health threat, Spath said. 

“This is not a case of acute toxicity,” he told the joint committee. 

Chromium 6 has been suspected of causing cancer in several high-profile lawsuits. In a 1996 case made famous by the Julia Roberts film “Erin Brockovich,” residents of the San Bernardino town of Hinkley won a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric because the company’s underground tanks leaked chromium 6 into ground water.