Friday, July 29, 2011

California Issues Public Health Goal for Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water

On July 27, 2011, the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment ("OEHHA") announced the long-awaited public health goal ("PGH") for hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, in drinking water.  OEHHA set the goal at 0.02 micrograms per liter, or parts per billion.  This PHG is the first in the nation, either state or federal, specifically for chromium 6. 

Chromium 6 entered the public consciousness when residents of the California desert community of Hinkley sued PG&E for injuries allegedly caused by their exposure to contaminated groundwater, a lawsuit featured in the movie Erin Brockovich.  Chromium 6 is a heavy metal that is commonly found at low levels in drinking water, often the result of historic industrial operations.  It has been linked to a variety of health issues, including cancers, primarily through animal testing.

The setting of a PHG does not establish a regulatory standard for contaminants in drinking water, or a target level for cleanup of ground or ambient surface water contamination.  Per Health and Safety Code Section 116365(c), OEHHA develops PHGs to determine concentrations of drinking water contaminants that pose no significant health risk if consumed for a lifetime, based on current risk assessment principles and practices.  The Department of Public Health ("DPH") is charged with developing primary drinking water standards, or maximum contaminant levels ("MCL"), for contaminants in drinking water.  In that process, DPH must take into account the PHG developed by OEHHA, among other factors, but may also consider technical and economic feasibility in setting MCLs.  Health and Safety Code Section 116365(a), (b).

No MCL has been set for chromium 6.  California has adopted a 50 parts per billion limit for total chromium and has been considering the development of a separate limit for chromium 6 for many years.  OEHHA's development of a 0.02 PHG is a further step in that process.

If you have any questions concerning this topic, please contact K. Eric Adair from our office, or the KMTG attorney with whom you normally consult.

Related links:

Press Release - OEHHA Adopts First-in-the-Nation Public Health Goal For Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water

Fact Sheet - Final Public Health Goal for Hexavalent Chromium

Final Technical Support Document on Public Health Goal for Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water

Responses to Comments on the Hexavalent Chromium PHG Document

Public Health Goals Developed as of July 2011

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