By Erin Brockovich
The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus – recognized as the “father of tragedy” – reportedly once said: “There is no avoidance in delay.”
Today in California, regulators are illustrating just how tragic delay can be when it comes to implementing safe drinking water standards for millions of people.
More than 20 years ago, in October 2001, California legislators passed a law requiring the California Department of Health Services to adopt a “Maximum Contaminant Level” (MCL) for a cancer-causing substance called hexavalent chromium by January 1, 2004. Hexavalent chromium, also called Cr(VI), is commonly found in drinking water supplies in California and around the nation.
Yet, today, in May of 2022, the state still lacks an enforced MCL, a decades-long violation of the law, and a threat to the health of everyone drinking tainted water. Hexavalent chromium is key to many industrial processes and is sold in tons per day nationwide, then often is discharged into sewage systems, waste ponds and waterways on a grand scale.
Controversy and conflicts of interest have played a role in the delay as groups such as the American Chemistry Council and the Chamber of Commerce have worked to deny the science showing Cr(VI) is a public health threat, and to influence and hobble regulatory action.
It was not until July 2011 that California regulators released a final Public Health Goal (PHG) for hexavalent chromium in drinking water at 0.2 parts per billion (ppb). At that level, the associated cancer risk is one in a million. That “goal” is supposed to help inform regulators as they set the MCL for protecting drinking water.
Yet since then, we’ve seen eleven more years of avoidance and delay. This March, the Water Board issued a notice stating that it intended to set the MCL for Cr(VI) at 10 ppb, many times higher than the PHG. The law is clear, Health & Safety Code §116365(a) requires a contaminant’s MCL to be established at a level as close to its PHG as is technologically and economically feasible, placing primary emphasis on the protection of public health.
Not only do the citizens of California not have a protective MCL for their drinking water, but they have borne constant witness to the regulators, appointed bureaucrats and elected officials buying the falsehoods sold by industry to protect their fortunes.
Let’s be clear: Hexavalent chromium is a toxin and carcinogen. It’s primary use as a biocide is designed to break down the cell walls of biofilm and kill the organism. In humans, over time, at very low concentrations it oxidizes cells creating the building blocks for cancer.
We owe people the truth and an MCL compliant with law.
(Erin Brockovich is a consumer advocate and environmental investigator. She was instrumental in building a case against Pacific Gas & Electric Company involving groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California.)
(Opinion columns published in The New Lede represent the views of the individual(s) authoring the columns and not necessarily the perspectives of EWG or TNL editors.)