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Excalibur Water Softening, Filtration and Purification Articles

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Learn about water softening, filtration, and purification technologies, problems & solutions.

Quality through innovation

Excalibur Water Softening, Filtration and Purification Articles

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Learn about water softening, filtration, and purification technologies, problems & solutions.

What is Chromium-6 in Drinking Water?

dumping industrial pollution into water supply

Table of Contents

An alarming report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Hollywood movie “Erin Brokovich” exposes the dangers of tap water tainted with the heavy metal Chromium-6. Recent scientific studies have shown that even small amounts of chromium-6 (or hexavalent chromium) in drinking water cause serious health concerns. The EPA or Environmental Protection Agency now classifies chromium-6 as a known carcinogen.

So how do you know if your municipal or well water contains chromium-6, and what can you do about it?

What is Chromium-6?

chromium periodic table element

Chromium-6 is one form of chromium; it is an abundant metallic element on the periodic table that is odorless and tasteless. It is found naturally in soil, rocks, plants, volcanic dust, animals, and water. It naturally occurs in surface or groundwater due to erosion and weathering. However, a large portion of chromium in the atmosphere and water comes from industrial pollutants such as refineries, metal smelters, thermal generating stations, urban storm runoff, leather tanning, and pulp and paper mill industries.

Chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium, is used in various industrial processes, including chromium plating, paint pigments, colored glass-making, leather tanning, corrosion-resistant coatings, and inks for coloring fabrics and plastics. Stainless steels are alloys made of chromium-6 and iron. Chromium-6 is added to nickel and iron to produce special metal alloys used to make products such as oil tubings, cutlery, and automobile trim. Although several industries continue to use chromium-6, it is toxic, and repeated exposures are proven to produce hazardous health effects.

There are different forms of chromium, but the most critical form of exposure is chromium-6, found in drinking water. Although other forms such as chromium-3 can be present when measuring the Total Chromium level in a water sample, it is vital to assume the hazardous chromium-6 form is also present. Other forms of chromium can be found naturally in food, water, and air, but these forms do not pose adverse health effects. In Canada, the proposed safe Maximum Allowable Concentration or MAC for total chromium is 0.05mg/L. It is based on the harmful health effects of chromium-6, which are more dangerous than all other forms.

Harmful Chromium-6 Exposed

industrial pollution from water pipe dumped into river

The Hollywood film “Erin Brokovich”(2000) tells the real-life account of the small town of Hinkley, California. It stars Julia Roberts as the legal assistant that takes on the company accused of polluting and contaminating the town’s water with chromium-6, which resulted in increased levels of cancer and the death of Hinkley residents. In 1996 the Hinkley residents won a $333 million settlement after many residents developed cancer from water contaminated with chromium-6 by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. The movie helped bring to light the health concerns of drinking water containing chromium-6. It sparked several countries to study and review the dangers of chromium-6 in drinking water, including research that shows repeated exposure can cause several health issues, including cancer.

The state of Michigan has been dealing with several incidents of ongoing chromium-6 and PFAS (forever chemicals) polluted waters. In December of 2019, the discovery of a green slime spilling along with interstate 696 startled commuters in Madison Heights, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. It was determined to be chromium-6 that a local electro-plating company illegally dumped. After years of illegally disposing of the chromium-6, the state removed an on-site chemical pit. Still, the chromium-6 remained in the surrounding soil and groundwater, polluting the local water for years. It must have been shocking for the EPA to find 37,000 barrels of chromium-6 contaminated water in the facility’s basement during the initial remediation.

flask of dirty water with clean glass of water

The EWG or Environmental Working Group is a non-profit American activist organization specializing in advocacy for drinking water pollutants and toxic chemicals. The Environmental Working Group or EWG 2009 report shows that of 35 U.S. cities tested, 31 cities detected levels of chromium-6 in their drinking water. Twenty-Five cities saw levels higher than California’s proposed public health goal. This investigation is the broadest general analysis concerning chromium-6 in drinking water. It highlights that no safe level of chromium-6 in drinking water has been established in California or the United States still to this day. This study is only a one-time snapshot, and it estimates that hexavalent chromium was detected in drinking water supplied to over 31 million American residents. Currently, several other counties worldwide have also not determined a safe limit for chromium-6 in drinking water.

Some leading industries using chromium-6 have been fighting for years to delay mandated limitations of hexavalent chromium in tap water to continue their business without disruption. However, chromium-6 pollution is an ongoing continuous health concern. The numbers supplied by the EWG study of water quality tests from 42 States indicate that far more Americans are drinking tap water contaminated with chromium-6 daily.

In 2011 California set a public health goal of 0.02 ppb for total chromium (including chromium-6) in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a set legal limit of 100 ppb of Total Chromium in drinking water which includes chromium-6 along with other less harmful forms. Interestingly, the EPA’s set limit is 1700 times higher than California’s proposed public health goal for chromium in water. These levels present an alarming disparity emphasizing the significant harmful health, including increased cancer risk from drinking chromium-6 tainted tap water.

What are the Harmful Effects of Hexavalent Chromium or Chromium-6?

woman holding stomach in pain

The “Erin Brockovich” movie revealed that repeated exposure to chromium-6 in drinking water could cause cancer. In scientific studies, it is shown to cause lung and stomach cancer. The Hinkley residents in the movie developed cancer, and some died from their prolonged toxic exposure.

Other serious health issues known to occur due to chromium-6 contaminated drinking water include male and female reproductive problems. Liver damage, kidney problems, seizures, and gastrointestinal bleeding have been caused by prolonged exposure to drinking tap water with chromium-6.

Chronic exposure to chromium-6 in tap water will increase everyone’s risk of developing cancer, but the elderly, medically suppressed, and the young are highly vulnerable to its ill effects. The young are much more susceptible to carcinogenic chemicals and the damage they cause to their developing organ systems. Also, there is a significant concern for individuals with a weakened immune system making them more susceptible to increased hexavalent chromium absorption.

Still, even further harmful health issues have been reported from drinking even small amounts of chromium-6 contaminated water, including nerve tissue damage, asthma attacks, bronchitis, vertigo, eye irritation, dermal burns, and ulcers. The effects are even more dangerous for smokers due to exposure to the tainted water and chromium-6 in cigarettes.

danger symbol

Chromium-6 is a known carcinogen, but it is only one of many dangerous heavy metals and chemicals contaminating our drinking water these days. It is clear that after more than twenty years since the “Erin Brockovich” 2000 movie, the Environmental Protection Agency has still not regulated a safe set limit of chromium-6 in drinking water. Investing in a specialized household water treatment system is essential to ensure your drinking water is safe and clean.

How Do I Know if I Have Chromium-6 in My Drinking Water?

testing water samples in home

The safest and most reliable way to know if your water is contaminated with harmful chromium-6 is to have a professional water specialist perform an accredited water test. An experienced water specialist will come to your home, take a sample, analyze your water and provide the best treatment solutions for your water and home. The analysis will provide a complete picture of your water quality and the contaminants present in your water.

How Can I Remove Chromium-6 From Drinking Water?

High-quality reverse osmosis systems must be used to remove hexavalent chromium from your drinking water. Unfortunately, chromium-6 comes from source water, so flushing pipes will not remove the toxic heavy metal. Boiling or freezing water does not remove or reduce chromium-6 levels either. Also, standard household filtered pitchers and fridge filters do not reduce or remove chromium-6.

It is highly recommended that you need a specialized water treatment system if your drinking water is contaminated with chromium-6. It is essential to install a professional water treatment system using quality certified materials from an industry standard such as the NSF/ANSI or American National Standards Institute. The certification ensures material safety and product performance and is supported by the Water Quality Association (WQA).

reverse osmosis system with clean glass of water

Even though your water may look clean and clear, all well and municipal water contain dangerous chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals such as hexavalent chromium (chromium-6). A Whole-Home Reverse Osmosis System most importantly removes chromium-6 and up to 99% of heavy metals, chemicals, viruses, bacteria, and other contaminants.

A reverse osmosis system removes most contaminants from your water by pushing the water through a semi-permeable reverse osmosis membrane. As water enters the reverse osmosis system, it passes through the membrane’s tiny pores while chemicals, salts, and heavy metals such as chromium-6 are rejected and sent to the drain. The water that passes through the reverse osmosis membrane is pure and clean, with over 99% of the contaminants removed, including harmful chromium-6.

A reverse osmosis system provides peace of mind that your drinking water is safe. The system produces pure, safe drinking water and soft clean water throughout your house, helping extend water using appliance life and mineral build-up in plumbing. An added benefit is that over half of the wastewater is recycled, which provides significant cost savings.

Excalibur Whole Home Reverse Osmosis System
Excalibur Whole Home Reverse Osmosis System

Another system that can remove chromium-6 is a whole home filtration system that uses specialized activated carbon filters. The filters will remove heavy metals such as chromium-6, chemicals, VOCs, chlorine, chloramine, lead, and more. Special activated carbon filters are excellent at trapping chromium-6, heavy metals, and other contaminants, leaving only pure fresh, safely filtered water without the use of chemicals. The whole home filtration system also provides clean filtered water for cooking, bathing, showering, and cleaning throughout your home.

Chromium-6 is a toxic heavy metal that causes severe and even life-threatening health concerns when ingested in drinking water. It is now scientifically shown to be carcinogenic, and even in smaller amounts, it produces harmful health issues. It is vital to ensure you are drinking the safest water possible. The first step is to consult a professional water treatment specialist who can test and identify if you have any chromium-6 or other dangerous contaminants in your drinking water. Next, they will inform you of all water treatment solutions to provide the purest and safest drinking water for your home and family.

For more information about Excalibur Reverse Osmosis or Whole Home Filtration Systems, please contact us.

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