From Chicago Tribune:

Chicago’s first round of testing for a toxic metal called hexavalent chromium found that levels in local drinking water are more than 11 times higher than a health standard California adopted last month.

But it could take years before anything is done about chromium contamination in Chicago and scores of other cities, in part because industrial polluters and municipal water utilities are lobbying to block or delay the Obama administration’s move toward national regulations.

The discovery of hexavalent chromium in drinking water is renewing a debate about dozens of unregulated substances that are showing up in water supplies nationwide. Potential health threats from many of the industrial chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs and herbicides still are being studied, but researchers say there is strong evidence that years of exposure to chromium-contaminated water can cause stomach cancer.

Test results obtained by the Tribune show that treated Lake Michigan water pumped to 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs contains up to 0.23 parts per billion of the toxic metal, well above an amount that researchers say could increase the long-term risk of cancer.

Chicago began quarterly testing for the dangerous form of chromium this year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged cities to track it while the Obama administration wraps up a scientific review — the first step toward a national standard. Until now, the results have not been shared with the public.

Federal officials are being nudged to act by California, which took a three-year look at the science and last month established the nation’s first “public health goal” to limit hexavalent chromium, an industrial pollutant made infamous by the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.”

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment defines the goal, 0.02 parts per billion, as an amount that reduces the risk of developing cancer to a point considered negligible by most scientists and physicians. Studies show that exposure to the metal also increases the risk of reproductive problems, interferes with childhood development and causes liver and kidney damage.

Echoing their counterparts in other cities where the metal has been detected, Chicago officials stress that local tap water is safe and suggest that if a national limit is adopted, it likely would be less stringent than California’s goal. But the findings raise new concerns about a toxic metal that can pass unfiltered through conventional water treatment.

More.

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