Carcinogenic Element in Utah’s Drinking Water

How safe is our drinking water?

-By Aldo Vazquez, originally posted on Setember 28, 2016


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A new analysis of drinking water has found that Chromium-6, an element known to cause cancer and not naturally occurring in nature, is in Utah’s drinking water and in the drinking water of all 50 states.

The study performed by the Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, found that 75% of drinking water in the U.S. was found to be at or above 0.03 parts-per-billion.  A number considered dangerous by the group.

According to the groups online interactive map, all of Utah’s large watering systems tested positive for Chromium-6.  Salt Lake County had a Chromium level of 0.580 parts-per-billion, Utah County was at 0.513 parts-per-billion and Washington County had an average of about 0.516 parts-per-billion.

Though these levels are much higher than the acceptable standard by the EWG, the Division of Drinking Water says those levels are too low to have serious health implications.

“That is a very, very, very low concentration,” said Director Ken Bousfield.  “Based on that factor, I would feel comfortable drinking it and my grandchildren drinking it in the state of Utah.”

But Dr. Brian Moech with the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment says even low levels have shown to have serious carcinogenic risk and other health implications.  He says, rather than sitting back and waiting around for Chromium-6 to have an effect on the health of individuals, Utah should act now.

“Let’s err on the side of public health, rather, and figure out how to get it out of our water system rather than saying, ‘well, we wont do anything about it until there’s irrefutable evidence,” he says.

Chromium-6 is an element that is not naturally occurring.  Often it is the result of leakage or spills contributed to manufacturing and Bousfield says the Chromium in the drinking water would probably come from one of those sources.  It has been linked to causing lung and liver cancer.

“It’s probably come from coal burning, steel manufacturing, chrome platting, dyes and pigments,” says Bousfield.

He says Chromium-6 likely gets into the water first through the air.  Weather events such as rain will then push it down into the ground and absorbed into the water.  It’s carcinogenic properties take effect once it’s ingested.

Though not an imminent concern for the Utah Division of Drinking Water they say they are monitoring it and are prepared to make recommendation should it become a major concern.

“I  think the fact that we’re watching what the standard is and notifying water systems and measuring, and making sure they’re compliant with a new standard when it comes,” said Bousfield.

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment say citizens need to put pressure on legislators to pass acceptable standards.

“The standards that should be established by our government have not been put in place and in our opinion they’re way to weak,” says Dr. Moench.

Utah law forbids the state from setting standards higher than those put in place by the federal government.  The DDW assures citizens that Utah’s drinking water is safe.

“We’re here to ensure the safety of drinking water and that is our objective and goal,” says Bousfield.

The Environmental Protection Agency now needs to study the toxicology of Chromium-6 and to assess the cost for treating it before new standards can be set, and both the DDW and the UPHE say that could take decades.

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