BEDMINSTER TWP. – In response to a national study showing widespread contamination of drinking water by chromium-6, a carcinogenic and toxic chemical, watershed watchdog Raritan Headwaters has expanded its water testing program to include chromium.
“Families need to know if their water is safe to drink, and it’s Raritan Headwaters’ mission to help them find out,” said Cindy Ehrenclou, RHA’s executive director. “There are remedies for any chromium contamination that may be discovered.”
Water test kits are available at Raritan Headwaters’ main office at 2121 Larger Cross Road in Bedminster, and at its South Branch office at 124 Main Street, Flemington. The test costs $25, and results are available in two weeks.
Dr. Kristi MacDonald, RHA’s director of science, said the test measures total chromium in water: both the toxic chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium, and the harmless chromium-3. If a water sample is found to exceed 1 part per billion (ppb), Raritan Headwaters will recommend a second test just for chromium-6.
To arrange for a test, contact Mara Tippett at email@example.com or 908-234-1852, ext. 401.
‘Erin Brockovich’ Chemical
A study released on Sept. 20 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) made national headlines by asserting that chromium-6 contaminates the drinking water of over 200 million Americans, including public drinking water supplies in at least 138 New Jersey communities. Chromium-6 causes stomach and intestinal cancers, and liver and reproductive system damage.
Chromium-6 is known as the “Erin Brockovich chemical” after the environmental crusader who battled a power company responsible for polluted groundwater in Hinkley, Calif. The case gained national fame from the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts.
In its study, EWG analyzed the results of over 60,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-ordered tests of water samples from public utilities across the country between 2013 and 2015.
EWG’s data indicated that 75 percent of water samples exceeded California’s “public health goal” of 0.02 ppb for chromium-6. California has the nation’s strictest goal for chromium-6 concentrations in water, based on creating a negligible risk for cancer. Public health goals aren’t legally enforceable, but legal limits are supposed to be based on them.
Based on the samples analyzed, Environmental Working Group calculated that the statistical risk from higher concentrations of chromium-6 in drinking water is 12,000 people developing cancer by the year 2100.
But the actual number could be higher, warned EWG. “Because the EPA tests covered only a fraction of the small systems and private wells that supply water to more than a third of Americans, it is highly likely that chromium-6 contamination is even more widespread,” according to the report.
How Local Region Could Be Affected
Chromium, a naturally-occurring substance, is found in soil and groundwater. It comes in two forms: chromium-3, which is relatively harmless and an essential nutrient to humans; and chromium-6, which is rare in nature and typically an industrial byproduct. Chromium-3 may be converted to Chromium-6 and vice versa depending on environmental conditions.
Chromium is widely used in metal plating, stainless steel production, wood preservation, and textile manufacturing. It is also found in ash from coal-burning power plants. In some places, such as Jersey City, barrels of chromium-6 were buried underground; leaking barrels have contaminated the soil and groundwater in some places.
According to Dr. MacDonald, it is not known yet how the Raritan Headwaters region of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Morris counties is affected by chromium-6.
“Nobody knows what’s in private wells, which is why we’re glad to be offering well testing for chromium to the community,” she said. About 80 percent of residents in Raritan Headwaters’ 470-square-mile region – or 320,000 people – get their water from wells.
Mara Tippett, Well Test Program Manager, noted that if chromium-6 is found, it can be filtered from drinking water with an ion exchange or reverse osmosis system. “Some homeowners may already have one of these and can take comfort in knowing they are already protected, if they’re properly maintaining their system,” she said.
For more information about well testing for a full range of contaminants, go to www.TestMyWell.org.
Need for State Chromium Limit
The EWG study points out that there is no federal or New Jersey state standard for chromium-6.
In 2010, New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute – an agency comprised of scientists, utility officials, and citizen experts – calculated a health-based maximum contaminant level goal of 0.06 parts per billion, just slightly higher than California’s health goal. But a legal state limit was never put in place.
Without its own limit, New Jersey falls under the federal standard of 100 ppb for total chromium.
Bill Kibler, Raritan Headwaters’ policy director, said there is a clear need for a New Jersey standard.
“As the most densely populated state in the union, and one that relies heavily on groundwater, there’s no excuse for us to not lead the way with drinking water standards,” Kibler said. “There’s not a lot of room for mistakes.”
According to Kibler, the next step should be for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to address chromium-6 as a health concern and establish enforceable drinking water standards. “DEP has the capacity to deal with this – there doesn’t need to be a new law,” he said.
For more information about Chromium-6 in our drinking water, visit our well test page athttps://www.raritanheadwaters.org/protect/well-testing/.
About Raritan Headwaters
The largest watershed organization in New Jersey, Raritan Headwaters has been working since 1959 to protect, preserve, and improve water quality and other natural resources of the Raritan River headwaters region through science, education, advocacy, land preservation, and stewardship. RHA’s region provides clean drinking water to 400,000 residents of 38 municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon, and Morris counties and beyond to some 1.5 million people in New Jersey’s densely populated urban areas. RHA has achieved statewide impact and is a proud recipient of the 2015 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award.
To learn more about Raritan Headwaters, please visit www.raritanheadwaters.org or call (908) 234-1852.