Boxer Introduces Bill to Set Chromium 6 Standard
The measure is also designed to settle the scientific debate
over the threat posed by the chemical.
By ANDREW BLANKSTEIN, Times Staff Writer
Saying the federal government isn't doing enough to ensure that drinking water is safe,
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced a bill calling on the U.S
Environmental Protection Agency to establish a separate federal standard for chromium 6.
The legislation (S-698), co-sponsored by Boxer and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), would require
the EPA to set a chromium 6 standard based on recommendations made by the National Academy
The bill was prompted by the lack of a federal standard for chromium 6, said Boxer, who
added that it is also designed to settle the scientific debate over the threat posed by
Chromium 6, used in paint pigments and as a rust inhibitor, is a known carcinogen when
inhaled as a vapor. But experts disagree over safe limits when it is ingested in water.
"The whole purpose of our bill is to get the science that will tell us what is safe
and then to set the standard," Boxer said in an interview. "We've never had a
[chromium 6] standard at the national level or any level."
Boxer also criticized the EPA, saying the agency has not taken aggressive steps to address
the issue despite increasing evidence of chromium 6 contamination in drinking water
supplies, including well water in Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel
Alexis Strauss, director of the federal EPA's water division, countered that the agency is
committed to safe drinking water.
"One of our highest priorities is ensuring safe drinking water for all
Americans," Strauss said. "While we believe the current state and federal
standards are protective, we are also committed to re-examining all available
Currently, neither the state nor the federal government specifically limits chromium 6 in
water. Instead, both limit amounts of total chromium as an indirect means of regulating
The federal government limits total chromium to 100 parts per billion, but California has
set a tougher limit of 50 ppb.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in 1998 recommended an
even stricter limit of 2.5 ppbto ensure optimum safety. Delays by the state Department of
Health Services in implementing that stricter standard triggered state legislation to
accelerate a review of safe levels of chromium 6.
Under fire for the delay, both state agencies last week said they would develop separate
standards for chromium 6 after the University of California convenes a panel of experts
nationwide to recommend a safe level.
Boxer said her bill would also let local water districts tap into a $1-billion federal
water cleanup fund to test for and remove chromium 6 from drinking water supplies.
The chemical gained national attention from the film "Erin Brockovich." The
movie details how a strong-willed legal investigator hired by attorney Ed Masry helped win
a $333-million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric on behalf of Hinkley, Calif.,
residents who drank chromium 6-tainted water.