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House OKs Effort to Limit ‘Erin Brockovich’ Metal in Water (1)

July 1, 2021, 3:36 PM; Updated: July 1, 2021, 5:35 PM

A national standard limiting chromium-6 in drinking water, known as the cancer-causing “Erin Brockovich” chemical, passed the House on Thursday as an amendment to the infrastructure bill.

A separate amendment doubling funding for lead pipe replacement in schools was also included in the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), which was sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). The House passed the full bill 221-201.

Both measures, which were included in an en-bloc amendment, face tough odds in the Senate.

The hexavalent chromium provision, sponsored by Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a maximum contaminant level goal for the heavy metal and write a regulation limiting it in drinking water.

The EPA has a drinking water level of 100 parts per billion for all forms of chromium combined.

Concerns in Texas, Elsewhere

Green has expressed concern for years about levels of chromium-6 in drinking water in Alief, a working-class suburb that is part of his Houston-area district.

“The EPA has the potential to protect the health of hundreds of millions of Americans by expeditiously establishing this standard,” Green and 11 other House Democrats wrote in a 2019 letter to then-EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The chemical was made famous by Brockovich, who discovered that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E Corp.) in the 1950s and 1960s dumped wastewater laced with chromium into ponds that polluted groundwater around Hinkley, Calif. A 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts chronicled the story and a class action lawsuit.

Hexavalent chromium is carcinogenic if inhaled, but the effects of swallowing it are less clear in humans, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Alan Roberson, executive director of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, said he is confident that Congress will pass a law regulating hexavalent chromium.

“I would say it’s 50/50 for passage,” Roberson said via email.

Lead Pipes

Another amendment in the bill would double the funding to $1 billion, or $100 million annually, available for schools and child care facilities to replace lead water infrastructure, including service lines.

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jamaal Anthony Bowman (D-N.Y.).

There were more than 6 million lead services lines nationwide that need to be replaced to eliminate lead contamination in drinking water as of 2016, according to an American Water Works Association national survey of lead service lines published that year.

(Adds comment from Alan Roberson beginning in tenth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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