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Posted on Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 3:32 p.m.

Report: Chromium-6 detected in Ann Arbor drinking water

By Juliana Keeping

An environmental watchdog group says levels of chromium-6 have been detected in Ann Arbor tap water.

The Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Environmental Working Group released a report Monday stating millions of Americans might be drinking tap water containing the harmful chemical called hexavalent chromium

The report lists 31 U.S. cities where people could be drinking contaminated tap water. Ann Arbor is 12th on that list with levels at .21 parts per billion.

According to the group, the EPA doesn’t require testing for chromium-6 and hasn't established any legal threshold for how much of it can be in drinking water. It is, however, classified as a probable human carcinogen.

Molly Wade, water treatment services manager for the city, said Ann Arbor tests its water supply yearly for various types of chromium, though the EPA requires testing only every nine years. The detection limit for the test they use is 2 parts per billion. The levels of all chromium read "non-detect," which means they are under 2 ppb, she said.

The city runs thousands of additional tests on its water every year, Wade said — for everything from bacteria to metals and gasoline byproducts. Some of the tests occur daily.

Wade said the city sends its water samples for chromium tests to an Underwriters Laboratory site in Indiana. UL is an independent product safety certification organization.

The Environmental Working Group didn't work with the city on testing samples, and Wade said she isn't sure where they did their testing.

"Our water meets or exceeds all state and federal standards," Wade said. "We're confident about our drinking water supply."

The group's report notes most people aren't familiar with chromium-6, but they might be familiar with the Erin Brockovich story. Tainted groundwater prompted Brokcovich to help bring about a lawsuit and a $333 million settlement for Hinkley, Calif., residents impacted by the chemical.



Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:48 p.m.

"Does anyone know if buying a water filter for your faucet helps at all or will I just waste my money? I really prefer not to consume any cancer causing elements. Thanks" sageaa: Your desire to not consume any cancer causing elements is not really possible in modern industrial America. Water pollution, air pollution and contaminants in our food supply can't be eliminated. Tons and tons of toxins are dumped into the environment every year and have been for decades(read the most recent report on the EPA website). All we can do is try to live in an area with reasonably clean water and air, and to purchase food that is grown/raised in reasonable conditions (organic is better in most cases, but not all). It's impossible in today's industrial world to avoid all cancer-causing toxins and pollutants in the environment. Government regulation of these toxins is not strong enough and industry wins these battles on a regular basis. As far as the chrome-6 issue, the Environmental Working Group, who published the report, refers on their website to a reverse osmosis system that could be installed on a household water supply. They report that it's expensive, but probably the only way to eliminate the chrome-6 contaminant from drinking water (epw dot org).

Kai Petainen

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 6:52 p.m.

"It definitely is a surprise because the water treatment operation in Ann Arbor has won a lot of awards for its drinking water," said Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council in Ann Arbor. "I wouldn't say this is alarming, but I wouldn't write off the findings either. This is definitely cause for more research and for further communication between the city, utilities and regulators." From The Detroit News:" someone mentioned that chromium occurs naturally... here is another quote... chromium 6 is not natural. "Given that we haven't found it in the water for all of this time and I've seen data that covers the last 30 to 40 years where would we be finding hexavalent chrome?" he asked. "There is very little industry upstream from us." "California conservationists are pushing state regulators to limit the amount of hexavalent chromium allowed in drinking water to 0.06 parts per billion. Chromium and trivalent chromium are naturally occurring chemicals. Hexavalent chromium, however, is the product of industrial processes." From The Detroit News: The comment above questioned if any sources would exist upstream... here is a link that mentions how it is used: (this is from OSHA) Chromium hexavalent (CrVI) compounds, often called hexavalent chromium, exist in several forms. Industrial uses of hexavalent chromium compounds include chromate pigments in dyes, paints, inks, and plastics; chromates added as anticorrosive agents to paints, primers, and other surface coatings; and chromic acid electroplated onto metal parts to provide a decorative or protective coating. Hexavalent chromium can also be formed when performing "hot work" such as welding on stainless steel or melting chromium metal. In these situations the chromium is not originally hexavalent, but the high temperatures involved in the process result in oxidation that converts the chromium to a hexavalent state.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 4:53 p.m.

Does anyone know if buying a water filter for your faucet helps at all or will I just waste my money? I really prefer not to consume any cancer causing elements. Thanks


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 2:53 p.m.

"How many people drink A2 water daily? How many have ever gotten sick or been diagnosed with illness caused by A2 water?" This is an overly simplistic statement, and certainly not an argument for ignoring the pollutants in A2 water (yes, they are there), or for ignoring the results of these tests from chromium-6. Go to the ewg website and look up A2 water reports. Illnesses contracted from pollutants and toxins in drinking water do not manifest in a simple, direct way, unless there is a big spill or accident, and people are sickened that day (rare). The toxins from water, air and food accumulate in our bodies over years and decades. Given all the toxins in the air and in the food we eat (chemicals, pesticides, etc), once someone contracts cancer later in life, there is no direct way to attribute that illness to "drinking water" or "air pollution." Many of the cancers and serious illnesses we contract over a lifetime have an "environmental" trigger, but the causes are usually more complicated. However, the toxins in our drinking water are a contributing factor, in the same way that the pesticides and air pollution contribute to "environmental" causes for many diseases. Take a look at the US "cancer maps" to see where the cancer hot spots are in the country and in Michigan. The National Cancer Institute has a very informative website, where you can look at cancer rates by state, by county, by type of cancer, by gender, age, etc. (statecancerprofiles dot cancer dot gov).


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 1:51 p.m.

DonBee, Thanks for the info. You had me wanting to quit everything and be 100% Chromium free...and then you mentioned I'd have to give up beer and wine...I love the Corner Brewery beer too much so to hell with it, I'll die of cancer.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 12:38 p.m.

This is a non story until the test results can be reviewed along with the records and the test facility itself. The actual test methods for various contaminants are defined by EPA though the EU has methods also. I hate to break it to the skeptics out there but EPA requirements are stricter than anywhere else as far as I have been able to determine, wtih the possible exception of Canada. I have reviewed alot of water regulations over the years and I haven't seen much that comes very close.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 12:35 p.m.

Excellent coverage by the bloggers on this one! Thanks DONBEE, JOHNSALINE and others for the science information. ------------ How many people drink A2 water daily? How many have ever gotten sick or been diagnosed with illness caused by A2 water? Looks like the "bureaucrats" are doing an OK job delivering a safe product to their citizens/customers. Perhaps instead of an all encompassing indictment of Big Bad Guvt an "atta boy" might be in order for the engineers, scientists, technicians and yes the administrative staff ("bureaucrats") on Summit St.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

The City of Ann Arbor's testing methodology had a detection limit of 2 ppb. The EWG's testing methodology had a detection limit of 0.02 ppb. A question would be "does the City intend to confirm or refute the finding with sampling and a methodology the can achieve the detection limits used by the EWG, i.e., EPA method 218.6 or equivalent having a detection limit of 0.02 parts per billion?"


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 11:07 a.m.

"Our water meets or exceeds all state and federal standards. We're confident about our drinking water supply" This sounds like double speak....and all of us have heard it before from "officials." Those standards are established by congress-people, of both parties, who are bought off by highly paid lobbyists from corporations and industries with a vested interest (high profits) in allowing the continued pollution of our water supply. Those industries don't want safer standards for drinking water; that would mean lower profits and their fleet of corporate jets might have to be decreased by a plane or two. Clean water standards are no different than any other "standards" established by the government: auto safety standards, auto mileage efficiency standards, air pollution standards, etc. All of these standards are constantly being aggressively fought by lobbyists, and end up watered-down by the paid-off congress. Remember when the auto industry fought installing seat belts in cars? If you want to see the state of affairs in this area, go to the epa website (epa dot gov) and enter your zipcode. Drinking water quality is addressed as well as cancer rates, air pollution, etc. Very informative website. Also check out the Environmental Working Group site that published this report: ewg dot org.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 10:33 a.m.

Youre ~60-70% water... act accordingly.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

Surely this must be Bush's fault! We inherited this problem, but we're working hard to fix it. In the meantime drink some kool-aid.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

People often like to point to the lack of scientific data about a potential problem like this as a justification for people not to be alarmed. However, to have scientific information on something somebody has to invest the resources. The EPA is bought and paid for by lobbyists so we aren't going to get the testing there. The Erin Brokcovich story does point to a challenge the public faces. Namely, when people get sick they often have a hard time proving the source because of a lack of scientific data. Obtaining the data would take years and money people do not have. So, people generally have to rely on a more of a circumstantial evidence approach. In the Erin case, the water had substantially higher levels of this chemical. That probably was the cause of the illness. People get convicted of murder on less evidence. Common sense demands you probably should exercise caution when circumstantial evidence points to a problem even if scientific evidence is lacking.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

I wouldn't cite Wikipedia as a source for information on much of anything. Here are other links:


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

What's to worry? I've been drinking the water for years with only slight, noticeable effects!


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

A little chrome always adds a little flashier look to our citizens!


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8 a.m.

fjord - clearly Ms. Wade is saying is that the water is safe. And I don't think water standards fit the category of the other regulations set by "industry" that you're referring to.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 6:58 a.m.

It's possible that the NSF and UL labs here in Michigan don't have the equipment or expertise to do the chromium tests.

Kai Petainen

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 11:53 p.m.

a quick search on google maps found a UL lab in Novi, Michigan. I had no luck at finding UL in Indiana. i must be looking at the wrong thing?


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 11:29 p.m.

Why does the city of Ann Arbor send the watter to be tested in Indiana, when there is a certification lab in Ann arbor Township. NSF on Dixboro Road runs these types of tests, and is a local employer.

Kai Petainen

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 11:05 p.m.

"The city runs thousands of additional tests on its water every year, Wade said, for everything from bacteria to metals and gasoline byproducts. Some of the tests occur daily." do any of those tests take place in the river? if so..... thousands of tests? gasoline byproducts? fascinating. then tell me exactly what spilled into the river on that day. surely some of the thousand tests were conducted the day of the spill and the days after in gallup park? what was in the booms? the AAFD test had some confidence of phosphoric acid, was that wrong?


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

David Briegel said: Did the buzzards come back to Hinkley? Yes, and as 5c0++ H4d13y said, they all got paid.

Kai Petainen

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

Does anyone really care about this in Tree Town City? It's not about fear-mongering or raising panic, it's about discussing our river and our water. Some care and think it is news, and others don't. After the petrochemical (and 88% confidence phophoric acid) spill occurred this summer.... did the DNR, EPA, or water treatment manager conduct a test to see what was spilled? I know the DNR and EPA never showed up. You see... we have at least one known case that was unsolved of something spilling into the Huron River this year. As a result, it makes me wonder what else has spilled into the river, and how often? I'm not saying that these two events are linked, but it touches on the same theme -- pollution in our river. Things might spill in the river, the public might not be informed, and the results and tests that people give might differ from one another. Very few knew of the event this summer, as they were busy elsewhere and headlines were dominated by the art fair. For those who are skeptical of tests.... According to the AAFD initial report, the summer spill had an 88% confidence of phosphoric acid. According to UofM DPS it was petroleum. According to a follow-up report, UofM DPS noted that it was non odorous mineral oil. Case was closed. And when I saw it, I could smell it, so I knew that i was certainly odorous. So, be skeptical of tests? Different people get different results. It would be nice to know where and when they took the tests. And for those who took the test, I wish you were here this summer to help figure out this mystery. Perhaps your equipment/personnel could have figured what spilled and covered this river for hours. (I never knew that it was hard to get samples from booms?) The reason I bring this up.... is that this spill was never solved, the actual substance was never fully determined, the source was never determined and the the cause was declared 'unknown'. Yet, it would involve a lot of people/work/etc to work on the problem. No fines or charges were issued for a spill that would cover the river for hours. Finally, folks decided that although a bunch of stuff had gone in the river, that it had no EVIDENT health or environmental hazard. So, something spills in the Huron River, or a test states that the drinking water has something questionable... does anyone really care? I always thought Ann Arbor was Tree Town City, I sure hope it still is.

David Briegel

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 10:12 p.m.

It's "natural" so it must be good for us. Like granola! Kind of reminds me of the time Charles Gelman allegedly drank Dioxin. Of course, our water comes from the good ole "Urine River"! Did the buzzards come back to Hinkley?


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 8:46 p.m.

@John of Saline & others - I certainly hope you realize that wikipedia is not authoritative on ANYTHING right? It may be the first thing that pops up, but that doesn't mean it's accurate by any stretch of the word.

5c0++ H4d13y

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 8:28 p.m.

The town that Brockovich "saved" has a lower cancer rate that than surrounding communities. You could call it a cancer "cold spot". But the lawyers got paid.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 8:25 p.m.

Is it time to panic? Someone please help, I'm not sure if this is cause for panic or not. I just got done reading an FBI warning on increased terrorists threats during the holidays so now I have to prioritize my panic level. Need help to determine which one should be panic priority.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 8:02 p.m.

When you invited Google to town, they brought Chrome with them, eh? (!!!). It's also available from their website tools selection....

Kai Petainen

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 7:53 p.m.

Did they ever solve the Huron River spill this summer?

Juliana Keeping

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 7:46 p.m.

Hi all. Check back in tomorrow for a story with comments from the city, the group that did the testing and a scientist familiar with chromium-6. In the mean time, here is some info from Molly Wade, water treatment services manager for the city: Ann Arbor tests its water supply once per year for various types of chromium, though the EPA requires testing only every nine years. The detection limit for the test they use is 2 parts per billion. The levels of all chromium read "non-detect," which means they are under 2 ppb. The city runs thousands of additional tests on its water every year, Wade said, for everything from bacteria to metals and gasoline byproducts.Some of the tests occur daily. The city sends its water samples for chromium tests to an Underwriters Laboratory site in Indiana. UL is an independent product safety certification organization. The group did not work with the city on testing samples; Wade isn't sure where they did their testing. From Ms. Wade: "Our water meets or exceeds all state and federal standards. We're confident about our drinking water supply."


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 7:25 p.m.

Hopefully, the City of Ann Arbor Water Dept. will rectify the problem with our drinking water. As residents, we should make sure that the city is aware of the problem by calling or e-mailing the proper personnel.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 7:12 p.m.

the Chromium-6 is a natural isotope of the Chromium. If you want to go Chromium free, you need to avoid..... beer and wine. If you want my beer and wine you'll have to pry them from my cold dead chromium-6 laced fingers.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 7:01 p.m.

@Glenn T I certainly don't pretend to understand the particulars. And I see you said it does not commonly occur in nature. You did not say it does not. I noted that the link said it occurs naturally in the soil. I will deffer to those of you that understand better. What I do understand is that there are always studies finding SOMETHING wrong or right with every thing. And then studies that contradict the first study. This happens every day. Things we thought to be true 2 years ago we are told are wrong. I do know we will all die from something.

Joe Hood

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 6:54 p.m.

@glenn thompson: When did Ann Arbor change the treatment process? I remember being asked a year or so ago about my opinion of the water and thought changing was silly.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 6:50 p.m.

@yohan - I just re-did the math and it still works. The numbers in the (xx) are in parts per million the numbers outside are in parts per billion so are 1000 times the numbers in the (xx).


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 6:38 p.m.

DonBee, In your first post you seem to also have confused parts per million (ppm) with parts per billion (ppb).


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 6:22 p.m.

Certainly is nice to live where people in the community are so bright. Why in the world would print a headline that scares the crap out of the average joe and a story with little substance. So what if there is a follow up to the story. Do it correctly the first time. Thank you to those of you that have an understanding of this issue.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 6:06 p.m.

Forgive you use of the word isotope. I stand corrected. I picked the wrong word. You are correct it is an oxidation state. I am an engineer, not a chemist. My bad.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 5:55 p.m.

@ Glenn T Hexavalent chromium has been detected in groundwater under private property and elsewhere in the Davis area, as well as many other places. It appears to occur naturally in the soil in this region and is not considered a product of industrial contamination. It appears that there is not a consensus as to where chromium-6 can be found!


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 5:35 p.m.

Eating granola solves many things.

John of Saline

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 5:15 p.m.

Chromium-6 is a natural isotope of the Chromium. It's the +6 oxidation state, not an isotope. And its danger is vastly overplayed. "Erin Brockovich" wasn't a science movie, FYI. Wikipedia has interesting (referenced) info on how there's no increased cancer in the area, despite the movie and lawsuits. The plural of "sad anecdote" is not data, no matter how much lawyers say it is.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 4:39 p.m.

The proposed limit in California for drinking water measured at the tap is 0.1 ppm for drinking water. The California airborne limit for Chromium 6 is 0.06 ppb. The Public Health Goal for Chromium-6 is also 0.06 ppb - Public Health Goals lead to a 1 in 1 million chance of a problem. There is NO limit in California today, only proposals by 3 different state agencies. One at the source, one at the tap and one that the sampling location is not specified. I hope this helps.

Tom Joad

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 4:36 p.m.

I'm wondering how this elevated chromium load will affect my electron transport chain


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

The webpage says CA limit is 0.06 ppb (parts per billion). So AA is >3x the proposed limit. I agree, probably no need to panic, but there is some cause for concern.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 3:52 p.m.

In Hinkley, California the level of Chromium-6 was 580 parts per billion (0.58 ppm). Hinkley was the town in the Brockovich story. The proposed limit for Chromium-6 in California is 100 parts per billion (0.1 ppm). The level in the Ann Arbor water supply is 0.21 parts per billion or about 1/500th of the proposed limit for California. Chromium-6 should be monitored and the California limit is a good one. Michigan has natural Chromium in the ground water, just like we have natural iron in the ground water. Chromium is required for good health, and the Chromium-6 is a natural isotope of the Chromium. If you want to go Chromium free, you need to avoid meat, cereal grains (including wheat and oats), nuts, green beans, broccoli, dairy products, spices and beer and wine. Also you should avoid any canned food, and any metal pans for cooking. In short this is not, at this level an emergency.