Calif. takes first moves to limit ‘Erin Brockovich’ chemical


California has emerged as the first state to advance limits on hexavalent chromium in drinking water, a contaminant linked to cancer first made famous by Erin Brockovich’s advocacy efforts.

The California Water Resources Control Board’s Drinking Water Program on Monday unveiled a proposal to set a “maximum contaminant level” (MCL) of 10 parts per billion, or ppb, in water.

The board is also proposing to set the “detection limit,” which would trigger reporting, at 0.05 ppb, according to the document. In addition, the board laid out a schedule for utilities across the state to comply — according to staggered deadlines based on their size — within four years.

The contaminant, also called chromium-6, was featured in the 2000 blockbuster movie “Erin Brockovich,” in which actress Julia Roberts plays Brockovich, an activist and legal clerk, as she fights companies accused of polluting California waterways. Public health advocates have repeatedly warned that chromium-6, a widely used industrial solvent in the 1950s and ’60s, is among the most common drinking water pollutants in the country (E&E News, May 2, 2012).

According to the California water board, hexavalent chromium has been detected in numerous drinking water sources across California, but past attempts to set regulatory limits at the currently proposed levels were thwarted by court decisions.

In 2011, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment established a hexavalent chromium “public health goal” of 0.02 ppb based on cancer risk. In 2014, the California Department of Public Health used that goal to establish an MCL of 10 ppb for hexavalent chromium.

But three years later in 2017, the Superior Court of California, Sacramento County, invalidated that regulation and directed the state water board to withdraw the regulation and establish a new MCL.

Five years after the court ordered the agency to rework its rule, California is once again moving forward.

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EE News, 23-02-22