Chromium in Louisville’s drinking water exceeds safe limits

Although Louisville’s tap water has been dubbed “Best Tasting” by the American Waterworks Association, that refreshing, metallic tang you detect every time you take a good swig of Ohio River aqua has earned our fair city a new distinction: We are now among 25 American cities whose tap water contains unsafe levels of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium.

Per new safety regulations proposed by the state of California, Louisville ranks 22nd out of 25 communities whose drinking water contains unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, aka chromium VI (aka a major plot element in “Erin Brockovich“).

Today marks the release of a new study conducted by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), marking the first time such a study involving tap water contamination of chromium six has been made public.

From EWG:

Tap water from 31 of 35 U.S. cities tested contains hexavalent chromium (or chromium-6), the carcinogenic “Erin Brockovich chemical,” according to laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG). The highest levels were detected in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, Calif.

Despite mounting evidence of the contaminant’s toxic effects, including a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft toxicological review that classifies it as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” when consumed in drinking water, the agency has not set a legal limit for chromium-6 in tap water and does not require water utilities to test for it. Hexavalent chromium is commonly discharged from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities. It can also pollute water through erosion of soil and rock.

The National Toxicology Program has found that hexavalent chromium in drinking water shows clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in laboratory animals, increasing the risk of otherwise rare gastrointestinal tumors (NTP 2007, 2008). In response to this study and others, California officials last year proposed setting a public health goal for chromium-6 in drinking water of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb). This is the first step toward establishing a statewide enforceable limit (OEHHA 2009).

And here’s some background on the issue, courtesy of The Washington Post:

The federal government restricts the amount of “total chromium” in drinking water and requires water utilities to test for it, but that includes both trivalent chromium, a mineral that humans need to metabolize glucose, and hexavalent chromium, the metal that has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

Last year, California took the first step in limiting the amount of hexavalent chromium in drinking water by proposing a “public health goal” for safe levels of 0.06 parts per billion. If California does set a limit, it would be the first in the nation.

Hexavalent chromium was a commonly used industrial chemical until the early 1990s. It is still used in some industries, such as in chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.

The new study found hexavalent chromium in the tap water of 31 out of 35 cities sampled. Of those, 25 had levels that exceeded the goal proposed in California.

For a snapshot of how Louisville ranks, peep this graphic from EWG:


  1. Bill
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I like that someone is keeping tabs on our drinking water, but how did the Californians pick their 0.06 ppb proposed standard? Is it somehow safer at 0.05 ppb? I’m not gonna get too worked up over Louisville’s 0.14 ppb until someone shows some sort of evidence as to what level is actually dangerous.

  2. John Locke 57
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    If you are curious as to what the hexavalent chromium levels were in Hinkley California in the famous Erin Brokovich case, it was found in the drinking water at levels of about 1.2-3.0 ppb which is between 10 and 20 times more potent than that in Louisville, so its not necessarily a pressing issue, but it definitely should be addressed immediately and brought down to .06 ppb.

  3. Precautionary Principle ALL DAY
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Hey, if the chromium in the water isn’t at points high enough to give a whole community cancer, fuck it! it’s probably fine!

    Doesn’t it make MORE sense to acknowledge that something is poison and then take steps to find ways to use LESS POISON rather than quibble over ppb’s. Cancer is cancer, period. Lets have less of it?
    It’s not just chromium that we have to worry about, there is a cancer crisis in this nation. 90% of new breast cancer diagnoses come in women with NO FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER, meaning that environmental factors must be at the root.

    It’s high time we freak out, in my opinion, and demand a toxic free future, but call me crazy.

  4. Carl
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    > Precautionary Principle ALL DAY said
    > take steps to find ways to use
    > LESS POISON rather than quibble
    > over ppb’s

    The reason scientists “quibble over PPB’s” is because there isn’t any water anywhere which is completely free of tiny amounts of “toxins”. Fortunately, most of them are at very low levels which will never harm us. If you don’t use your head to figure out whether or not a particular level is actually harmful, you could get lost on a fool’s errand and spend 100 years trying to completely eliminate some thing without succeeding in doing anything useful.

  5. Albert A. Black
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Just got my 2011 Annual Water Quality Report and NO MENTION OF CHROMIUM!

    I guess that means the problem is fixed, right?


  6. earl
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    You know, what’s in a number. What’s it relative too? Another number? Let’s pretend that .14 is important and contains harmful chromium. Oklahoma has in 12.9 (about 90 times greater than that of Louisville) and Hawaii has 2.00 parts per billion (about 14 times more chrome). That’s billion folks!. These are still meaningless numbers. The kicker here is that the federal government loves numbers and if the .14 parts per billion of chromium is that dangerous to human comsumption, we almost know for a fact they (the liberals)couldn’t wait to shut our water supply down.
    Enought of this numbers game. My opinion to to drink all the water the body can hold and see for yourself how long it takes you th get sick or die.

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  1. [...] water. The proposed safe level of the carcinogen would be .06 parts per billion. As LEO reports, Louisville does not meet that standard, even though the water will soon be in line with new federal regulations. Louisville ranks 22nd out [...]