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ALERT: Cancerous ‘Erin Brockovich’ Chemical Found in US Drinking Water

Sep 22, 2016 05:03 AM EDT
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According to a new report, the carcinogenic “Erin Brockovich” chemical is contaminating tap water of two-thirds of Americans.
(Photo : Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, USCDCP / Public Domain CC0 / Public Domain Images)

The carcinogenic "Erin Brockovich" chemical has contaminated the drinking water supply of nearly 200 million Americans across all 50 states, a new report found.

According to a new analysis from the non-profit research and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), a program under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested over 60,000 water samples and found that the cancerous chemical known as chromium-6 has contaminated over 75 percent of the water samples. The EPA data shows that about 218 million Americans are exposed to potentially unsafe levels of chromium-6.

"Americans deserve to know if there are potentially harmful levels of a cancer-causing chemical in their tap water," David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, said in a news release.

"But the test results on the EPA's website are hard to find and even harder to understand. So we compiled and sorted the data, and we found that the scope of the contamination is startling. It's long past time for the EPA to take action to protect Americans from chromium-6."

About 25 years ago, the conflict over chromium-6 began when environmental crusader Erin Brockovich confronted a major utility company that poisoned the tap water of Hinkley, California with the cancerous chemical. The incident had been turned into a Hollywood biographical film in 2000.

According to the authors of the study, chromium-6 is used in steel production, chrome plating, and to lower the temperature of cooling towers in electrical power plants. The ashes from coal-burning power plants are usually dumped into unlined pits, contaminating water supply. Once inhaled, airborne chromium-6 particles can cause lung cancer, and ingestion of the chemical could lead to stomach cancer, liver damage, reproductive problems and brain development problems in children.

In 2008, a study by the National Toxicology Program found that chromium-6-contaminated water caused cancer in laboratory mice and rats. Researchers from the California Office of Health Hazard Assessment found that even small amounts of the chemical could cause cancer in people.

An interactive map created by EWG details the water test results by county for all 50 states. It shows that water supply in Phoenix, Arizona is the most affected, followed by St. Louis County, Houston, Los Angeles and Suffolk County, New York.

"The water system in this country is overwhelmed and we aren't putting enough resources towards this essential resource," Erin Brockovich told The Guardian. "We simply can't continue to survive with toxic drinking water."

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