California became the first state in the nation Thursday to propose
limiting a carcinogen found in drinking water throughout the state, but
environmentalists say the recommended standard under the plan is too lax.
Under rules proposed by the state Department of Public Health, hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, would be capped in drinking water at a level of 10 parts per billion, 500 times higher than the limit of .02 parts per billion suggested by the state's Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA's recommendation is not binding, and public health officials said the newly proposed level was the more economically realistic one.
"Ten parts per billion provides for maximum public health protection, while still considering costs and technical feasibility," said Dr. Mark Starr, deputy director of the agency's Center for Environmental Health.
The agency estimates it will cost affected public water systems statewide $156 million annually to comply with the new standard. Chromium-6 was found in 51 of 58 counties in California between 2000 and 2004. Santa Clara, Monterey and Sacramento counties were found to have some of the heaviest concentrations.
The carcinogen often enters drinking water as runoff from industrial operations, or it seeps from soil into groundwater. It can cause abdominal pain and hemorrhage when ingested in large amounts, and cancer when inhaled.
Avinash Kar, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said the level of chromium-6 allowed under the new proposal was too high.
"We're definitely disappointed," he said. "It's not safe enough."
His group sued the health agency last year to force it to set a limit -- which by law was supposed to have been established by 2004.
State officials said they were not able to propose a limit until the Environmental Protection Agency made its recommendation, which it did in 2011.
No federal or state standard currently exists specifically for chromium-6.
The public can comment on the proposed limit until Oct. 11.
Stephanie M. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @stephaniemlee
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