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Boxer Introduces Bill to Set Chromium 6 Standard

Water: The measure is also designed to settle the scientific debate over the threat posed by the chemical.

April 05, 2001|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying the federal government isn't doing enough to ensure that drinking water is safe, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced a bill calling on the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to establish a separate federal standard for chromium 6.

The legislation (S-698), co-sponsored by Boxer and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), would require the EPA to set a chromium 6 standard based on recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences.

The bill was prompted by the lack of a federal standard for chromium 6, said Boxer, who added that it is also designed to settle the scientific debate over the threat posed by the chemical.

Chromium 6, used in paint pigments and as a rust inhibitor, is a known carcinogen when inhaled as a vapor. But experts disagree over safe limits when it is ingested in water.

"The whole purpose of our bill is to get the science that will tell us what is safe and then to set the standard," Boxer said in an interview. "We've never had a [chromium 6] standard at the national level or any level."

Boxer also criticized the EPA, saying the agency has not taken aggressive steps to address the issue despite increasing evidence of chromium 6 contamination in drinking water supplies, including well water in Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Alexis Strauss, director of the federal EPA's water division, countered that the agency is committed to safe drinking water.

"One of our highest priorities is ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans," Strauss said. "While we believe the current state and federal standards are protective, we are also committed to reexamining all available science."

Currently, neither the state nor the federal government specifically limits chromium 6 in water. Instead, both limit amounts of total chromium as an indirect means of regulating chromium 6.

The federal government limits total chromium to 100 parts per billion, but California has set a tougher limit of 50 ppb.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in 1998 recommended an even stricter limit of 2.5 ppbto ensure optimum safety. Delays by the state Department of Health Services in implementing that stricter standard triggered state legislation to accelerate a review of safe levels of chromium 6.

Under fire for the delay, both state agencies last week said they would develop separate standards for chromium 6 after the University of California convenes a panel of experts nationwide to recommend a safe level.

Boxer said her bill would also let local water districts tap into a $1-billion federal water cleanup fund to test for and remove chromium 6 from drinking water supplies.

The chemical gained national attention from the film "Erin Brockovich." The movie details how a strong-willed legal investigator hired by attorney Ed Masry helped win a $333-million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric on behalf of Hinkley, Calif., residents who drank chromium 6-tainted water.

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