California Fails to Protect Drinking Water from Toxic “Erin Brockovich” Chemical

State’s New Standard 500 Times Higher Than Cal EPA’s Safe Level

SAN FRANCISCO (April 15, 2014) – The California Department of Public Health today announced its final drinking water standard for the toxic chemical hexavalent chromium made infamous in the film Erin Brockovich. The state’s new Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 parts per billion is 500 times greater than the level identified as safe by the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The decision comes 10 years after the state Legislature required the department to set the standard and two years after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) filed a successful lawsuit against the department for failing to act in a timely manner. The chemical hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen and used in various industrial processes. It is also associated with various other health effects, including liver damage. It currently contaminates drinking water in over 500 California communities.

The following are statements by representatives of NRDC, EWG and Clean Water Action (CWA):

NRDC Attorney Avinash Kar

“The California Department of Public Health’s long-delayed action today simply does not provide enough protection for people’s health. The department both inflated water treatment costs and underestimated the benefits of a stronger standard to justify its proposal. Politics and special interests shouldn’t be able to interfere with and delay the process of setting public health standards for dangerous chemicals in drinking water. We need to improve this process moving forward to ensure that we are focusing on and protecting the health of all Californians.”

EWG Director of Research Renee Sharp

“We have been waiting ten long years for this drinking water standard. At the end of the day, I'm not sure that the wait was worth it. A 10 parts per billion standard is certainly better than nothing. But when you know that the standard is not truly protecting the public from cancer and other health impacts, it doesn't feel like a victory. Going forward, it is clear that we need to reform the process so that public health doesn't continue to be shortchanged.”

CWA Program Manager Andria Ventura

“Setting drinking water standards that are not adequately health protective because low income communities can't afford the necessary treatment perpetuates the cycle of toxic exposure and harm. Instead, we need to set stringent standards and focus on ensuring that disadvantaged communities have access to sustainable resources to provide the best water possible to their residents.  This way all Californians are protected.”


The CalEPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced a final Public Health Goal for hexavalent chromium in drinking water in July 2011, a preliminary step for the Department of Public Health to adopt a drinking water standard. California law requires that a Public Health Goal be established before a MCL may be set – and that the MCL should be set as close as possible to that goal. The goal was set at 0.02 parts per billion, a level that does not pose a significant cancer risk to people. CalEPA also concluded that levels above 2 parts per billion are associated with non-cancer health effects, such as liver damage. The MCL is 500 times greater than the cancer public health goal and 5 times greater than levels associated with other health effects.


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