By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

An adult human body is made up of approximately 60 percent water, and it covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface. Clean water is crucial to our survival.

On Sept. 20, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group released a national report that found unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) in water supplies, affecting more than 218 million Americans in all 50 states. (Find their interactive map at ewg.org to look up your county.)

Chromium is an odorless tasteless metallic element that can be found in water, rocks, plants and soil. The two most common forms of chromium found in water are trivalent chromium (chromium-3) and hexavalent chromium.

According to the National Institutes of Health, chromium-3 is an essential nutrient. We ingest it from water, plants, meats and yeast. It helps metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Chromium-6 also occurs naturally in the environment but is toxic. When we ingest it in trace amounts, the acids of our stomachs convert it to chromium-3. Problems occur when we ingest it in excess of what our bodies can process. Then it can cause cancer.   
In an effort to reduce cancer risk, California scientists recommended a public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 allowed in tap water. In 2014, they settled on 10 parts per billion after further consideration of treatment costs, and the technical feasibility of detecting the contaminant at such low levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency set a drinking water limit for total chromium (3 and 6 combined) to 100 parts per billion. That’s 5,000 times California’s public health goal and 10 times the state’s legal limit. To this day, the EPA hasn’t established a limit specifically for chromium-6.

Interestingly, several members of the EPA’s scientific review panel were on the payroll of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. You may remember the 2000 movie “Erin Brokovich.” Chromium-6 was the cancer-causing byproduct of PG&E’s that contaminated the water in Hinkley, California—and it still does today.

The Environmental Working Group recognizes that cleaning contaminated water supplies is expensive. “But the answer to high costs is not allowing exposures at unsafe levels while pretending water is safe,” according to their website. “And the fact that some unknown level of chromium-6 contamination comes from natural sources does not negate Americans’ need to be protected from a known carcinogen.”

In the meantime, how are we to ensure we have clean drinking water?

Local water expert Peter Manka, the principal water resource engineer at Alpine Water Systems in Big Sky, explains that ensuring clean drinking water is coming from our home faucets can be complex.

“Chromium-6 is just one of the many odorless, tasteless toxins that could be contaminating our water,” Manka said. If your faucets are connected to city water, there are public records showing which chemicals and minerals are present. However, if you’re on a private well, the homeowner has to do their own investigating and is ultimately responsible for the safety of the water that they drink.

Manka says the most thorough way to remove chromium-6 from water is through a process called reverse osmosis. However, this process not only removes all contaminants, but all of the healthy minerals as well. His solution to this is re-mineralizing with drops added to each serving, or with a cartridge that will automatically replace minerals from faucet water.

Ocean Robbins, CEO of the Food Revolution Network, suggests a counter top reverse osmosis unit manufactured by AquaTru. There is a YouTube video that shows this system turn Coca-Cola into pure water.

You can also sign the online Environmental Working Group petition calling on the EPA to set a national safety limit for chromium-6 in drinking water.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach and Consultant, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@corehealthmt.com.