SAN FRANCISCO (December 23, 2013) – The California Superior Court of Alameda County ruled that the California Department of Public Health must issue a final drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium no later than June 15, 2014. The decision released on Friday comes after the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group sued the agency for delaying action necessary to protect millions of Californians whose tap water may be contaminated with the hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical made infamous in the movie Erin Brockovich.
“Californians have waited ten years too long for a hexavalent chromium drinking water standard and we’re relieved that we now have a deadline for action,” said Avinash Kar, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Public Health Program. “But now the department must adopt a stronger standard to adequately protect millions of Californians from this dangerous chemical found in drinking water throughout the state.”
The court ruled that the department is in violation of its duty to set a drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium by the January 1, 2004 deadline set by the California Legislature. After reviewing the evidence, the court also found that the department’s actions were not adequate to fix this violation. The court imposed the following two deadlines for the department to complete its work on the standard: April 15, 2014, if the department makes no changes to the standard it proposed last August, or June 15, 2014, if the department makes changes to its proposed standard, to allow for public input.
Proposed Standard Not Strong Enough
Earlier in the case, the court had ordered the department to propose a draft drinking water standard by August 2013. The standard the department proposed would allow 500 times more hexavalent chromium in drinking water than the health goal that state scientists determined to be protective of public health. During the public comment period, the agency received more than 20,000 comments on its proposal from the public, it says, and the vast majority of Californians who spoke up wanted a drinking water standard that would offer more health protections.
“State health officials have proposed a weak standard that will leave many California residents with potentially dangerous levels of the cancer-causing chemical in their drinking water,” said Renee Sharp, director of research for the Environmental Working Group and the head of the group’s California operations. “This proposed standard does not adequately protect the public from a known carcinogen and liver toxicant.”
Hexavalent chromium is a dangerous toxin. In addition to causing cancer, the chemical has been linked to other serious non-cancer health risks, including liver and kidney damage, blood abnormalities, reproductive problems, and the potential to harm a developing fetus.
The department’s current proposal does not adequately consider these non-cancer health risks, and overestimates the cost of water treatment. The department should take these non-cancer health risks into account and accurately reflect costs when finalizing the standard later this year.
Based on a review of the agency’s proposed standard by NRDC, EWG and other environmental groups and clean water advocates, the proposed standard would leave more than 60 percent of the state’s population inadequately protected to the chemical. Data provided on the department’s own website show that, since 2000, more than 6,500 samples from sources of drinking water supplying the City of Los Angeles alone were contaminated with hexavalent chromium at levels above the public health goal.
The court order is available upon request.