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March 14, 2013

Chromium-6 Taints Water Supplies Around the Country

The 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich” chronicled the struggles of the small town of Hinkley, Calif., against the monumental Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), who was polluting their water with the toxic substance chromium-6. However, more than ten years later, Hinkley is still dealing with dangerous levels of the chemical in its groundwater.

However, this problem isn’t unique to Hinkley. Americans may take access to clean water for granted, but chromium-6 contamination affects the water supply of up to 70 million people around the country.

“There’s more and more mounting evidence of what chromium-6 does to the human health, what it does to the environment, what it does to the air,” said real-life Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist. “Every community that I deal with that has been exposed to chromium-6, they have the same health symptoms, they have the same problems.”

“In the 1950s and ’60s, PG&E admits it dumped 26 tons of a coolant made of chromium 6 into unlined retaining ponds here,” explains NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien. “The chemical is toxic and causes cancer.” PG&E has spent $700 million to clean up the water supply around Hinkley, but while the chemical’s presence has been reduced, it still remains in the groundwater.

With mounting evidence that chromium-6 is more dangerous than once thought, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to revisit their standards for the amount of the chemical that is allowed into the drinking water supply. The current standard, which was set 20 years ago, is 100 parts per billion; 5,000 times higher than the California EPA’s goal of .02 parts per billion.

Click here to view part 2 of this report


“I don’t want to live here. I don’t want my family here. I have no choice. No one will buy my home. Who wants to move into this?” -Teresa Sheeftsall, resident of Hinkley, Calif.

Warm up questions

1. Do you drink water out of the tap? What do you think about its quality? Is it safe to drink?

2. What can you do to make your drinking water cleaner?

3. What is a carcinogen?

Discussion questions

1. What do you think should happen to companies who pollute public water supplies?

2. Why do you think stronger action has not been taken on chromium-6 before now?

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