Report: Erie tap water contains carcinogen

by David Bruce, originally posted on September 21, 2016


Erie’s drinking water — along with the water supplies of hundreds of other U.S. communities — contains traces of chromium-6, a carcinogen featured in the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Twenty-one of 24 local water samples contained at least a trace of chromium-6, a toxin widely used in dyes, manufacturing and contained in the ash from coal-burning power plants. It also naturally occurs when chromium deposits erode.

The samples were taken from sources overseen by Erie Water Works and the Millcreek Township Water Authority before it joined Erie Water Works in December.

The amount of chromium-6 found in local samples varied from zero to 0.521 parts per billion with an average of 0.08 ppb, well below California’s drinking water standards of 10 ppb. California is the only state to set a legal limit of chromium-6 in drinking water.

The highest local level of 0.521 ppb was found at a well near McDowell High School that was closed when the Millcreek authority joined Erie Water Works in December.

“Our samples cited in the report are all well below California’s maximum contaminant level,” Erie Water Works CEO Paul Vojtek said. “Based on what we know, we are far from being in contamination. I don’t believe there is any need for concern.”

The widespread contamination nationwide was documented in a report released Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based health-advocacy organization. The report analyzed samples taken by local water utilities from 2013 to 2015 under an Environmental Protection Agency program.

Chromium-6 was detected in more than 75 percent of all samples taken nationwide, according to the report. EWG officials estimated that water supplies serving 218 million Americans include more than 0.02 ppb of chromium-6, the maximum healthy amount set as a public health goal by the California Environmental Protection Agency.

“Americans need to know if there are potentially harmful levels of a cancer-causing chemical in their tap water,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG who co-authored the report, said in a news release. “But the test results on the EPA’s website are hard to find and even harder to understand. So we compiled and sorted the data, and we found that the scope of the contamination is startling.”

Erie Water Works tests for chromium-6, also known as chromium hexavalent, even though Pennsylvania has no maximum limit. The EPA’s limit for all forms of chromium is 100 ppb.

“Based on the available science, Erie Water Works’ water is not exceeding any identified maximum contaminant levels,” Vojtek said. “If the science changes, we will take the appropriate actions.”

Learn More