Judge’s ruling prompts State Water Board to remove drinking water standard for Hexavalent Chromium

By on August 3, 2017

The State Water Resources Control Board approved a resolution on Tuesday to eliminate the current maximum contaminant level (MCL) for hexavalent chromium – also known as chrome 6 – found in drinking water. The board’s action was in response to a May 31 court ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger.

Though the Water Board has indicated it disagrees with the court’s decision, the board will now begin the process for adopting a new MCL – a process which usually takes between 18 and 24 months. The Water Board has chosen not to appeal the court’s decision on the case after the regulation was challenged by the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and the Solano County Taxpayers Association.

The challenge to the MCL for chrome 6 contended that the state “failed to properly consider the economic feasibility of complying with the MCL.” While the court did “not decide whether the MCL is economically feasible,” nor did it conclude whether the MCL was too high or too low, the court did say the regulation did not adequately document why the MCL was economically not feasible. The court’s ruling requires that “the State Board establish a new maximum contaminant level for hexavalent chromium in a manner that is consistent with applicable law, including by considering and determining that compliance will be economically feasible.”

Hexavalent chromium in drinking water, and the fact that the toxic metal can cause cancer with long-term exposure, was made famous in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.” In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Brockovich said, “California hasn’t “tossed” anything… The California Department of Health did a sloppy job adopting the maximum contaminant level (MCL) almost four years ago… we told them then what they were doing was wrong… they didn’t follow the law. Which is one of the reasons the Drinking Water department was gutted and transferred to the State Water Board two years ago!”

The chrome 6 MCL regulation was crafted when the Division of Drinking Water was under the authority of the California Department of Public Health. The Division was transferred to the State Water Board in July 2014. When the regulation was adopted California became the first state in the nation to issue a drinking water standard for chrome 6 when it set the MCL at 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Though the current chrome 6 regulation has been struck down, the state’s MCL for total chromium of 50 ppb remains in place. Total chromium is a measurement of both trivalent and hexavalent chromium in water together though it does not indicate how much of either type exists. Trivalent chromium is not considered toxic and is an essential nutrient in trace amounts. California’s total chromium MCL outpaces the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s MCL total chromium at 100 ppb.

Although the current MCL is being eliminated, State Water Board staff will begin the process of deleting the regulation’s text from the California Code of Regulations – which is required by Aug. 15. It will become effective in late September after the Office of Administrative Law approves the proposal to remove the text.

The State Water Board will now begin work to establish a new MCL for chrome 6. The Board will take advantage of a wealth of data collected over the last three years – since the MCL standard was adopted   – to help craft a new MCL.

Chrome 6 remains a threat to public health as it is still present in the water supply of many public water systems. The Board hopes to establish a new MCL for chrome 6 as close as possible to the public health goal set by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The new standard could be at the same level as the now invalid one but must first answer the issues raised by the lawsuit which has struck down the current level. The board is encouraging public water systems that have already installed and are operating treatment systems to continue to operate these facilities.