Chromium - It's not just for bumpers anymore...

Chromium - It's not just for bumpers anymore...

Original Image Warning, that image is about 4.8 MB… but it’s ‘way cool’ if you click on it and look at the details…

It’s odd how one thing leads to another. One minute you are chasing down where stream flows are headed and that leads to water issues that leads to… Chromium-6. And it’s in my water. Who knew? Maybe it’s related to Ice-9, or at least useful in “double Scotch”…

OK, it looks like I’m late to the panic, but I’m still trying to figure out if there really IS any reason to panic. The normally paranoid about all things toxic Wiki says:


Hexavalent chromium is transported into cells via the sulfate transport mechanisms, taking advantage of the similarity of sulfate and chromate with respect to their structure and charge. Trivalent chromium, which is the more common variety of chromium compounds, is not transported into cells.

Inside the cell, Cr(VI) is reduced first to metastable pentavalent chromium (Cr(V)), then to trivalent chromium (Cr(III)). Chromate-dyed textiles or chromate-tanned leather shoes can cause or exacerbate contact dermatitis. Vitamin C and other reducing agents combine with chromate to give Cr(III) products inside the cell.

So it looks to me like you ought to avoid eating your cowboy boots and drink your O.J. but beyond that? …

Hexavalent chromium compounds are genotoxic carcinogens. Chronic inhalation of hexavalent chromium compounds increases risk of lung cancer (lungs are especially vulnerable, followed by fine capillaries in kidneys and intestine). According to some researchers, the damage is caused by hydroxyl radicals, produced during reoxidation of pentavalent chromium by hydrogen peroxide molecules present in the cell. Strontium chromate is the strongest carcinogen of the chromates used in industry. Soluble compounds, like chromic acid, are much weaker carcinogens.

In the U.S., the OSHA PEL for airborne exposures to hexavalent chromium is 5 µg/m3 (0.005 mg/m3).[4][5]

(Quoted from: )

OK, got it. I ought to avoid chronically inhaling my drinking water. I think I already knew that….


The local paper that is named in a curiously appropriate way “The Mercury News” and that we usually call “The Murkey News”…

Contaminant levels higher than San Jose in many California water systems

Julia Prodis Sulek
Posted: 12/25/2010 06:35:06 AM PST
Updated: 12/27/2010 07:28:31 AM PST

Related Stories
Dec 22:
Mercury News editorial: Feinstein, Boxer taking right approach on chromium 6
Dec 21:
Document: ‘Chromium-6 in U.S. tap water’

When San Jose’s tap water turned up last week on an environmental group’s list for having among the highest levels of the cancer-causing chemical chromium-6, alarmed residents started calling their water companies and California’s two senators began calling for new safety standards.

Well, of course. Nothing like a good environmental panic to get Babs Boxer and Feinstein all fired up for more control and taxation. and “highest levels”… well, “WOW”? or ought that to be “What”?…

But the report by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group only brought public attention to an issue state officials have been quietly tracking for years. A state survey conducted during the past decade has found thousands of water sources across California with higher levels of the chemical than San Jose.

So, we’ll be last in line for the new improved General Motors Cancer Care Chromium Plated USDA Approved Ambulance? Or what? But at least it’s comforting to know that a lot of other people are more poisoned than you are.

Schadenfreude, it’s not just for survivors any more…

Armed with that information, plus new research on the health risks of chromium-6, state public health officials are proposing a safety limit for the contaminant that is far lower than the levels found in many of those water sources, including San Jose’s. Still, most of the levels being detected around the state are minuscule compared with what was measured in Hinkley, the Mojave desert town that brought the potential dangers of chromium-6 to light when Erin Brockovich helped win a $330 million settlement from PG&E for residents who blamed the chemical for cancers and other ailments.

Oh, I get it. A movie star looking for positive green press coverage gets a highly regulated company to fork over some rate payer dough, so everyone else gets a regulation slapped on them… I’m starting to be less worried about my water and more worried about my TV shows… Who’s career is fading and needs a “media boost”…

‘Proper context’

A test of water from one San Jose tap in the advocacy group’s report showed levels of chromium-6 at 1.34 parts per billion — nowhere near the 580 parts per billion detected in Hinkley.

Oh. We’re down in the parts per BILLION range, and over 2 orders of magnitude away from the Lawsuit Land level. Wonder what the safe level is? Should I sell my stainless steel cookware? Cash it in for Aluminum? Oh, wait… Maybe copper would be better… except it’s toxic to marine life (and expensive…). Perhaps I’ll use hot rocks in clay pots. Wonder if they are EPA approved?

Further down…

Safety standards

While state and national standards are in place for levels of total chromium at 50 parts per billion and 100 parts per billion respectively, there are no standards set apart for the more harmful chromium-6.

Oh, so nobody really knows… or they would have already set a limit 100 times lower than that… Guess until then I’ll just have to continue to make sure I don’t chronically inhale my drinking water… Or maybe I can put a reducing agent in it, like vitamin C or, oh, I don’t know, carrots and potatoes, then heat it up and let them consume the Evil Chromium-6. I’ll have to dispose of the “waste product” though… I think I’ll mix it with some of the equally vilified saturated fat laden animal byproduct – butter and the salted kind at that. Then I’ll promptly deposit it into the State Certified Waste Disposal System… about a day later…

It is worth noting that the city of Hinkley where they won the suit was already 5 times the national stanard and 10 times the State standard for total Chromium. I’m sure that adding a new additional standard and test will assure that they meet all the old tests they were already not meeting… If I’m caught speeding will they add a law against Camo Pants as a ‘fix’?

The process has been fraught with controversy through the years, however, dating back to 2001, when a blue ribbon panel of scientists was tasked with recommending a safe chromium-6 level. Within a few months, several scientists resigned amid allegations of industry influence.

I wonder where one gets these blue ribbons? Might I make my own and get on panels? Or is it like home schooling, where a DIY approach is Not Approved? Oh well, looks like it didn’t pay very well as they quit in short order. But maybe that’s a good thing, it’s only been under study for a decade by that panel. Might be a kind of dull career choice.

Setting a goal is back on track, however. After much public input, a revised goal somewhere near the proposed .06 parts per billion is expected to be adopted early next year. That would be followed by an estimated four years of public review and legislation to create an enforceable standard. At that point, water operators would be required to clean or dilute their water to meet chromium-6 standards.

So we’re going to be setting a non-enforceable standard that’s 60 Parts Per TRILLION? Then taking 4 years to figure out what to do with it? Just amazing…

Maybe it’s time to invest in the Vitamin C industry…

But it’s a good thing we’re on top of this, before it washes out into the Sea and Oceans and contaminates all the fishes and goes up the food chain to kill all the birds and Sushi Chefs…



Chromium concentrations in natural waters range from 2 to 5 nmol kg–1 in open ocean water up to 100 nmol kg–1 in freshwater. Its oceanic behavior is complicated by the occurrence of two important oxidation states with very different properties and possible organically bound species. Cr(III) has a significant affinity for suspended particulate matter and is readily adsorbed to it in the water column and in the sediment. Cr(VI), as the thermodynamically stable form in sea water, is the dominant species. It is also known to be of much higher toxicity than Cr(III), which is generally accepted as an essential trace element. Sources for chromium in the oceans are mineral weathering processes and riverine and atmospheric input. The possibility of conversion between different species impedes the determination and classification of chromium compounds particularly when preliminary separation and preconcentration steps are necessary to determine the very low levels of chromium in natural waters.

Oh, too late… but at least it’s a natural chromium-6

I’m still left wondering if 60 parts per trillion is anything other than the limit of testing ability of the guy selling the new water tester, and just a bit better than the 100 parts per trillion that his competition with the smaller bribery political contribution fund can do…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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10 Responses to Chromium-6

  1. George says:

    So California sets what appears to be a ridiculously low level for the stuff and then cities scream that they have “high” levels of the stuff. Sounds to me like the creation of a new industry via arbitrary standards set by regulatory agencies.

  2. omanuel says:

    The Cr+6 ion may be dangerous to life. The problem is this:

    Government-funded scientists were caught fudging data in the climate scandal, and government agencies failed to act. In fact, those spreading questionable government propaganda seemed to be rewarded.

    Now nobody knows how long government scientists have been “finding evidence” of anything that they were instructed to find evidence of, in exchange for government grant funds.

    This is scary for science and for constitutional government.

  3. Jeff Alberts says:

    Sounds a lot like the Dioxin scare.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, for anyone wondering, I call Erin a “movie star” tongue in cheek as she is NOT a lawyer.

    Erin Brockovich-Ellis (born June 22, 1960) is an American legal clerk and environmental activist who, despite the lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Since the release of the film that shares her story and name, she has hosted Challenge America with Erin Brockovich on ABC and Final Justice on Zone Reality. She is the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting, a consulting firm. She is currently working as a consultant for Girardi & Keese[2][3] on the east coast, the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg,[4] which has a focus on personal injury claims for asbestos exposure, and Shine Lawyers in Australia

    So you see, America IS the land of oportunity still. Even a lowly legal clerk can strike it rich if they find the right person or corporation to sue, then it’s on to media fame and fortune…

    I still think we ought to sue Algore for breach of contract. He promised me warm and dry. I’ve got cold and wet…

    Oh, and this is a juicy bit:

    But here’s the denouement that both the litigation and the film missed: a California Cancer Registry survey released this month failed to find a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley. On the contrary, from 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — more than 10% fewer than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics. Such surveys are probably not highly accurate, but this one does tell us that if Cr-6 in water is a human carcinogen, it is certainly not a potent one.

  5. Jeff Alberts says:

    But here’s the denouement that both the litigation and the film missed: a California Cancer Registry survey released this month failed to find a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley. On the contrary, from 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — more than 10% fewer than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics. Such surveys are probably not highly accurate, but this one does tell us that if Cr-6 in water is a human carcinogen, it is certainly not a potent one.

    Yup, exactly like the Dioxin scare.

  6. cementafriend says:

    Chiefio, Chrome (VI) in cement has been found to cause dermatitis in some tradesmen (5to10% susceptible from frequent use) handling wet mortar and concrete (particularly plumbers packing, with their bare hands, mortar (sand & cement) around fiitings such as toilet suites). In Europe there is a standard for cement on the maximum Chrome (VI) content which is soluble in water. Note Cr (III) is not soluble and is not detected by the test. The Cr(VI) can be fixed to some extent by adding Fe(II)SO4 at the cement grinding stage. This causes the Cr(VI) to go to Cr(III) while the Fe(II) goes to Fe(III). The Cr(VI) in the cement is the result of high temperature (>1500C) oxidation in the kiln. The main source was from the use of high Chrome containing bricks at the hot end of the kiln. In many countries the use of such bricks has been banned. Most cement in countries where chrome containing bricks are not used have no problem to get under the limit of 2ppm dry weight cement.
    It seems in the USA that Portland cement is excluded from the OHSA regulation of 5microgm/m3 because at normal dust limits (10mg/m3) the Cr(VI) is not detectable.

    By the way there are clinical tests to show that ingestion of Portland Cement is not harmful.

  7. Sera says:

    “At that point, water operators would be required to clean or dilute their water to meet chromium-6 standards.”

    I like diluting water- do it all the time. That way, it’s so much more watery.

  8. Jeff Alberts says:

    “I like diluting water- do it all the time. That way, it’s so much more watery.”

    Homeopathic water?

  9. Earle Williams says:


    Thanks for the pointer to that sexy calendar pic of Chromium. Woot! Just look at that cleavage. :-)

    I now have a new desktop image for my computer. The image of the Sarychev Volcano from ISS was getting a bit dusty…

    Gratuitous geologist pr0n here:

  10. Level_Head says:

    The science did not support the settlement. What ultimately caused the case to settle is when the PG&E attorneys hired a private investigator to look into the plaintiff attorney’s corruption — and the investigator disclosed this to his target after he was fired.

    PG&E paid off to avoid this embarrassment, especially after the investigation itself reveal that the arbitration system was deeply corrupt.

    This article captures a fair amount of this — but not the attorneys whose careers were destroyed when they were hired to get the money actually distributed to the townspeople:

    Disclaimer: I’ve had occasion to negotiate on that attorney’s Gulfstream jet.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

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