Bill sets deadline for water standard

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 30, 2001

SACRAMENTO — The state Senate voted Tuesday to require health officials to set drinking water limits for chromium-6, the substance that gained notoriety in the Julia Roberts film “Erin Brockovich.” 

The bill, by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, would require the state Department of Health Services to set a maximum allowable limit for chromium-6 in drinking water by Jan. 1, 2004. 

Chromium is a natural element that has two basic forms: chromium-3, an essential nutrient, and chromium-6, a carcinogen when inhaled. 

Public health agencies have not yet determined if chromium-6 is a carcinogen when ingested, but the Department of Health Services and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced in March that they would evaluate whether chromium-6 should be regulated as a drinking water contaminant. 

The Senate voted 23-7, without debate, to send the Ortiz bill to the Assembly. 

“Erin Brockovich” is based on a 1996 case in which residents of the California desert town of Hinkley won a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric when the utility company’s tanks leaked high concentrations of chromium 6 into ground water.  

Roberts won an Oscar for her portrayal of a law firm assistant who curiosity about illnesses in Hinkley led to the settlement.