The Environmental Working Group released an explosive report on Tuesday that conveys a shocking truth for over 200 million Americans. The carcinogenic chemical chromium-6 (also referred to as hexavalent chromium), which was made infamous during the 1990’s due to Erin Brockovich and the lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, is present in water quality samples across the nation.
Their article is very well-written, so I’m going to let it speak for itself. Click to read EWG’s report, which explains everything you need to know about chromium-6.
Contained within their article is an interactive map, which allows you to zoom in as far as the city/county level to see what was detected in the systems in your area. It’ll even tell you where samples were collected from.
My current FL county (Duval) had 3 out of 5 water systems come back positive (4 samples of 136 tested positive). In my specific water grid, only 2 of 104 samples came back positive.
I found that the Ohio county I grew up in, Cuyahoga County, which houses the city of Cleveland, tested 6 systems – all came back positive for chromium-6. Across the county, 47 of 52 samples tested positive, in varying levels.
(FYI – If you try this, and do not see your city system listed, it’s not to be taken as it testing negative. It means they were not included in the test.)
An important thing to note, is that the “standard” you see listed above as the California Public Health Goal of 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) is not a law. It is, as the name suggests, a goal that would “pose negligible risk over a lifetime of consumption.” In other words, it would drastically lower, but not eliminate, cancer risk. Levels of 0.02 ppb or less are not to be taken as “totally safe,” rather “safer.” The only thing 100% safe is 0.00 ppb.
There are several really shocking cases across the U.S. Take a look at this graphic from EWG that shows appalling numbers coming out of Phoenix, AZ, and St. Louis County, MO. I have a family member in Kansas City who was understandably shocked by this news.
As you can imagine, the cities most affected by this report are tripping over themselves to explain away the findings and restore confidence. Take a look at this article posted on cleveland.com and this article posted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which quotes a Director of Public Health as responding, “The drinking water is perfectly fine.”
Now, I agree that most people don’t need to run screaming from their tap (though those in Phoenix or St. Louis County are a different matter). But, this brings water quality issues into stark focus. The ongoing situation in Flint, MI was one of the first harbingers of the water quality issues more U.S. cities are going to face.
I’m an advocate for filtering your water, no matter where you live – do not drink straight tap water! However, this business with chromium-6 changes the ballgame and forces us to look beyond the well-known filtering options.
The question in everyone’s mind is: “What can I do to protect myself?” I’ve seen a bunch of people commenting, “This is why I drink bottled water,” but note that bottled water isn’t a guarantee of safety (I’ll get to that in a minute), nor is it the most economical or environmental option.
In the FAQ section of their article, EWG addresses the question of filtration:
So, if you’re already using a water filter, what does that mean? I recommend you visit your product’s website and contact the manufacturer if you’re not sure, but it seems that most sources agree that carbon’s abilities are limited against inorganics like chromium-6. It’s possible they may have some effect, but not much.
Now, if you’ve read my earlier post about chlorine safety, you know that I used to use a Brita filter for our drinking water, but because our water here is so hard and excessively chlorinated (think pool water), Brita couldn’t keep up.
Per Brita’s website, you can see that faucet mount filters are among their most thorough products, though even those are not claimed to reduce chromium-6.
I know Pur filters more contaminants, because we have a faucet mount (model FM-3700B) on our kitchen faucet (for washing produce and quick water fill-ups) and the data sheet is super impressive – reduces 70+ contaminants! But what about chromium-6? Per their website, here is the full list of contaminants reduced, but chromium-6 is not one of them.
So, I decided to check out EWG’s handy water filtration guide, which lets you search by the type of filtration unit you want and the contaminant you want to remove.
Right now, the only low-cost filters EWG lists for reducing chromium-6 are ones made by ZeroWater. Even though the picture on EWG’s guide only lists one model, in fact, there are 10 models certified by NSF for chromium-6 reduction. (It’s the only pitcher filter certified as such, as seen in searching their database.)
Here are the 10 ZeroWater models certified by NSF for reducing chromium-6:
Reverse Osmosis is Key
As you may be able to see in the pic above (or if you visit EWG’s guide), the only other products listed are reverse osmosis (RO) undersink or whole-home filtration systems. RO is a process known as one of the most effective (along with distillation) against water contaminants, including fluoride (which ordinary carbon filters do not remove either).
Now, getting an RO unit isn’t in the budget for everyone, nor is it a possibility for those (like myself) who rent. I can tell you I certainly plan to invest in one whenever we own a home. If you can get one, you should, and not just in light of chromium-6.
About Bottled Water
As I mentioned earlier, many people have said that they drink only bottled water, so they say they’re fine. The truth? It depends.
Buyer beware – just because your bottled water has a picture of a nature scene, it doesn’t mean it’s from a spring! Many bottled water brands use municipal water sources, though it still goes through a purification process (which varies company to company). Without turning this into a bottled water exposé, just realize you have to look into the source and processes used for your bottled water. Many people don’t realize that you can go to a company’s website and look around for info on their process, and seek a “Quality Report” or “Water Analysis Report” link.
Let’s take, for example, Zephyrhills 100% Natural Spring Water (which is sourced from five Florida springs). After deciding our Brita wasn’t cutting it, for a short time, we were buying new Zephyrhills 3-liter bottles from Walmart each week, which was a terrible waste of plastic and a waste at $1 each. (I’ll come back to what we’re now doing in a sec.)
On Zephyrhills’ website, I viewed the water report:
As you can see, seven lines down, total chromium is listed (which would include chromium-6 as well as other less-dangerous forms of chromium). As you follow that across the column, you see that the test results show “ND” (meaning “Non-Detect”).
Because Zephyrhills is now part of the Nestle Waters family, I headed to Nestle’s website to view their process, which you can see here if you’d like. Step 3 in the process is demineralization by reverse osmosis or distillation, either of which would remove compounds like chromium-6 (and fluoride, for that matter).
Digging around some other non-Nestle brands of water, like Dasani and Aquafina, I found their water quality reports, and also saw ND for chromium. Both companies get their water from municipal water sources, though they do use reverse osmosis in their purification processes too.
As you can imagine, though, if a shady bottled water company is using municipal sources and not using RO or distillation, your bottled water is at risk of having chromium-6 in it.
Water Refills, Dispensers, & Home Delivery Options
Okay, even though I just finished saying that, yes, depending on the purification processes used, some bottled water may in fact be free of chromium-6, don’t take that as me advocating you buying four 24-packs of bottled water a week. Please don’t do that.
Single-use bottled water is pretty darn expensive, since you’re paying for all that packaging, and certainly way less environmentally-friendly than other options. I mentioned earlier that I would come back to explain what we’ve been doing lately, so here we go.
We’ve kept (and sanitize) seven of our Zephyrhills 3-liter bottles, and we refill them during our weekly shopping trip at the fill-your-own Primo kiosks (seen in the pic below, on the right).
If you’re not familiar with Primo, they offer two options for their water, refill and exchange, which you can read more about here.
Please note that the refill stations do use municipal water sources, which is then filtered through the machine: through a sediment filter, a carbon filter, reverse osmosis, then treatment with UV light. The refill station can be used with a jug or container of your choosing.
Filling seven 3-liter jugs (equivalent to 5.5 gallons) costs us $2.73 a week, and is enough for both my husband and myself. We use this water for drinking and cooking (including boiling pasta and making tea).
The second option, seen on the left in the pic above, is the bottle exchange. For this, you must have a dispenser tower that holds a 3- or 5-gallon jug. You bring jugs back empty, receive an exchange ticket, and use that as a credit for purchasing a new jug. Read more here.
The filled jugs used for this exchange come sealed, directly from Primo’s purification plants. Here, too, the water is from municipal sources, and undergoes a 9-step process that includes reverse osmosis or distillation (depending on the plant). [Update 11/2016: Primo used to provide access to their water quality report on their website, but it’s no longer available on their redesigned site.]
We eventually want to get a dispenser tower and start doing the Primo exchange, but it looks a bit more expensive. Cost probably will vary by store, but each 5-gallon jug is $11.50 at our Walmart, I believe. (Keep in mind, that’s face value before you cash in the exchange voucher, but I haven’t verified how much credit you get – I’ve heard $5, making a jug $6.50 if so. As I said above, we get 5.5 gal for $2.73 doing the refill method.)
Check here to see if a store near you offers a Primo refill station or exchange station.
Another option you can look into is home delivery, though that is the most costly and (in my mind) too much of a hassle to deal with worrying about your water being delivered and sitting outside when you’re not home. I prefer to not get involved in “subscription plans” either, but that’s me.
But, if you want, check out Zephyrhills delivery – as I mentioned before, it’s spring water, not municipally-sourced, and would be treated using RO just like the Zephyrhills water sold in smaller bottles.
Well, I hope that helps! With this news breaking, I know there are a lot of upset people. I’ve spent more time than the average bear looking into drinking water options ever since we moved to Florida and our tap water has been awful, so I wanted to share some realistic solutions.
Please feel free to hit me up in the comments if you have questions. It’s possible I may have come across the answer in my research and can help out.
Wishing you healthier, happier days!