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11 Things You Need to Know About the Carcinogen Discovered in Drinking Water

When you see news reports about a cancer-causing chemical in drinking water everywhere you turn, you probably have a few questions.

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Contact your local water utility or check EWG's tap water database to learn if chromium has been detected in your tap water.

Chrom6tips.png5. My tap water has high levels of chromium-6. What should I do?
If your tap water contains high levels, your best bet is to install a reverse osmosis filter certified to remove it. Reverse osmosis filters, especially when combined with superior carbon filter technology, are the best way to remove the largest number of contaminants.
EWG assembled a list of reverse osmosis water filters certified to remove hexavalent chromium and available for purchase on Amazon.com.

See EWG's water filter buying guide for more information on how to choose a water filter.

While drinking bottled water might seem like a good way to avoid exposing yourself to hexavalent chromium in tap water, there is no guarantee that bottled water has lower concentrations of this contaminant. If you drink bottled water, choose brands that provide water quality information indicating their water has levels of chromium-6 below 0.06 ppb or that use reverse osmosis filtration to treat their water.

Because infants can be especially sensitive to carcinogenic chemicals, it is particularly important to use safer water when preparing infant formula. Water treated with a reverse osmosis filter will contain fewer contaminants and be safer for babies than bottled water.

6. Can I test my own tap water for chromium-6?
Most commercial water quality laboratories do not offer this test.

7. Besides drinking water, how else can I be exposed?
Other sources of exposure to hexavalent chromium include contaminated food and contaminated workplace air, especially for those working in metallurgy or leather-tanning facilities. Contaminated soil particles may also be a source of exposure via ingestion or inhalation. Widespread industrial use has led to detections of chromium-6 in two-thirds of current or former Superfund sites.

8. Are some people more vulnerable to the effects?

Yes. Fetuses, infants, and children have a higher sensitivity to carcinogenic chemicals. Their developing organ systems are more susceptible to damage from chemical exposures, and less able to detoxify and excrete chemicals.

In addition, people with less acidic stomachs appear to have a limited ability to convert chromium-6 to chromium-3, exposing them to higher levels of the toxic form and putting them at greater risk. Using common antacids and proton pump inhibitors can reduce stomach acidity. Other conditions that can inhibit stomach acid production include infection with Helicobacter pylori (a common bacterium linked to ulcers), pernicious anemia, pancreatic tumors, mucolipidosis type IV and some autoimmune diseases.

9. What other chemicals in my tap water should I be concerned about?

Check out EWG's tap water database for an in-depth look at water contaminants, including drinking water quality information for 48,000 communities in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

10. What is EPA doing to promote safe drinking water?
Not enough. In the case of hexavalent chromium, the EPA has taken no specific action to limit amounts in drinking water. The agency has left in place an inadequate standard for total chromium, set nearly 20 years ago. It does not distinguish between toxic hexavalent and nutritionally essential trivalent chromium and cites "allergic dermatitis" as the only health concern. The agency has not set a new, enforceable drinking water standard for any contaminant since 2001.

Recently, however, the federal government has begun to focus a critical eye on chromium-6 and other water contaminants. EWG recommends that the EPA set a legal limit for hexavalent chromium in drinking water as quickly as possible and require water utility testing to assess exposures nationwide.

11. Is bottled water a safe alternative?

Drinking bottled water might seem like a good way to avoid exposing yourself to hexavalent chromium, but there is no guarantee that bottled water contains less of this contaminant. Furthermore, there is no legal limit for chromium-6 in bottled water, so consumers cannot assume it is free of it. EWG has assessed bottled water quality and the industry's labeling practices and isn't impressed with either. If you drink bottled water, choose brands that provide water quality information indicating that the water has less than 0.06 ppb of chromium-6 or that use reverse osmosis filtration to purify it. Overall, test results strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted. As EWG's Jane Houlihan says,

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