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Is the drinking water safe enough?

The Environmental Working Group tested the tap water in 31 cities. The group contends the EPA's current requirements are not stringent enough.

"At least 74 million people in nearly 7,000 communities drink tap water polluted with 'total chromium,' which includes hexavalent and other forms of the metal ... ," information provided by the group states.

Information from the group notes that "hexavalent chromium gets into water supplies after being discharged from steel and pulp mills, as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities. It can also pollute water through erosion of soil and rock."

The Upper Ohio Valley has a long history of steel production along the Ohio River. Local water officials noted they do not test specifically for hexavalent chromium because there is no requirement to do so.

In West Virginia, the state Bureau for Public Health oversees public water systems. Charles Robinette, special projects and regulatory compliance coordinator for the bureau, said the state has no additional requirements other than those imposed by the EPA.

"We don't have any special standards - we adopt the EPA's regulations for chromium," he said.

Currently, officials in California are considering limiting hexavalent chromium levels to 0.06 parts per billion, a standard that would cap levels at roughly 15 times lower than the 0.88 parts per billion rating recently discovered in Pittsburgh's drinking water supply. Cincinnati had 0.03 parts per billion in its water.

However, chromium levels in the Steel City's drinking water are much lower than those found in Norman, Okla., a city of 90,000 serving as the base for the University of Oklahoma. Water in that city registered a rating of 12.9 parts per billion, about 200 times California's proposed safe limit.

In response to the growing concerns over hexavalent chromium, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the current standard of 100 parts of total chromium per billion is "based on the best available science and is enforceable by law. Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA."

"The agency regularly re-evaluates drinking water standards and, based on new science on chromium-6, had already begun a rigorous and comprehensive review of its health effects," she continued.

"In September, we released a draft of that scientific review for public comment. When this human health assessment is finalized in 2011, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information, including the Environmental Working Group's study, to determine if a new standard needs to be set," Jackson added.

4.1.11 03:23

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