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After seven years, the California State Water Board (SWB) finally set a needed limit for Hexavalent Chromium (chrome-6) in drinking water. Unfortunately, the set maximum limit of 10 μg/L fails to protect human health, being 500 times the Public Health Goal of 0.02 μg/L. Community partners from the Central Coast and Central Valley previously made comments before the SWB urging them to fulfill their duty and protect the health of impacted communities. Read our full statement here and testimony from California Legislative and Policy Director Andria Ventura to the SWB below. 

Hello, my name is Andria Ventura and I am here on behalf of Clean Water Action and our tens of thousands of members throughout California. Over the last 15 years I’ve seen protecting the public from hexavalent chromium become politicized at the expense of public health. I’ve seen how ratepayers, particularly in low income communities and communities of color are used as pawns with claims that they can’t pay the high costs of treatment.  Its been a dark stain on California.

While I am here to express, once again, why a 10 ppb drinking water standard for hex chrome is inappropriate, I do want to start with a point of agreement.  We concur that an MCL should not be delayed further because OEHHA will at some point review the PHG as it relates to cancer.  We agree that it is unlikely that  the PHG will be lowered or raised much, if at all, based on new science and even if it is, we already know that the final overall PHG cannot be higher than 5 ppb based on non-cancer endpoints.  Consequently,  an MCL can move forward and we would argue that it could be at least lowered to 5 ppb -if not lower.

Which brings me to the main point of my comments.  A 10 ppb MCL for hex chrome is an injustice that is out of keeping with the Board’s mission to protect public health and future generations. Given that it is 500 times higher than the current public health goal of .02 ppb, it flies in the face of California’s requirement that the MCL be set as close to the PHG as is technically and economically feasible.  

Other advocates will likely talk about flaws in the Board’s economic analysis that skewed the decision making process toward this non-protective standard.  But I want to bring up something particularly disturbing. For over 20 years now, industrial polluters and some water systems have repeated the mantra that hex chrome is expensive to treat and would therefore place an untenable burden on ratepayers. There is truth to that, though few of those entities have been leaders in innovating to bring down costs, or getting resources to disadvantaged communities, or understanding the costs of cancer.  However, at a hearing last year, every person who lived in a community with hex chrome in its water called on this board to set the MCL lower to protect them from cancer and other health problems.  Every one of them!  These are the very ratepayers that are talked about as the reason for not setting the standard lower.  

The disturbing part is that after all of the speakers at the hearing sat down, some members of this Board picked up industry’s mantra, telling those ratepayers that they needed to be protected from the costs and totally ignoring their testimony.  It was an insult that reflected a paternal attitude that people drinking contaminated water don’t understand what they need, and that their voices could be talked over.

The Board’s mission is to protect our water and our people.  While we understand the need to balance many needs and perspectives,  it is disturbing how much the rhetoric coming from industry, water systems, and the Board itself aligns. It is sad that what should be a public health effort becomes politicized and about dollars. Because at the end of the day, there are things that exist despite denials, misleading interpretations of science, or politics. The Earth is round, climate change is real, and hexavalent chromium in drinking water can cause cancer in very low amounts.   

2024 California Legislative Priorities

This year Clean Water Action is sponsoring four groundbreaking bills to restrict the continued use of super-toxic chemicals before they enter our water and bodies and ensure that all Californians have access to clean, affordable water.
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