New drinking water test results show chromium-6 problem goes beyond city of Houston

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter , Debbie Strauss - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - Channel 2 Investigates has been looking into the safety of drinking water from the city to the suburbs and small towns surrounding Houston, focusing on chromium-6, a cancer-causing chemical.

It's an issue we've been investigating since November.

Brandy Arick just moved to Dayton with her twin boys. She spends her time sprucing up the house in the small Liberty County town of about 7,000. Arick lives close to a city park, and right by the schools.

Since her move, one thing has been bothering her.

"There's been a couple of times I've noticed the water was a different color," Arick said.

Arick and her family live in an area with chromium-6.

In November, Channel 2 Investigates revealed the city of Houston's tap water had problems.

"The city of Houston's water ranks third in the country in terms of high levels of chromium-6," said Bill Walker, managing editor of Environmental Working Group.

Chromium-6 is the chemical made infamous by the movie "Erin Brockovich."

In Dayton, levels of chromium-6 were 10 times higher than Houston's citywide average. Houston's average is 0.75 parts per billion.


At Arick's home, our test showed chromium-6 levels at 7.6 parts per billion.

At the city playground, levels were 7.9ppb.

And around the corner on Norcross Lane, they were 8.8 ppb.

"I'm astounded,” Dayton resident Margie Pattison said. “I didn't believe anything like that would be in the water.”

In California, where chromium-6 first made headlines, public health officials said cancer rates start to rise at 0.02 ppb.

But it's not just a Dayton or a Houston problem.

Chromium-6 is found in the Pecan Grove neighborhood of Richmond's water, too. A house on Willow Bend measured 4.6 ppb.

house on Confederate Court measured 6.7 ppb.

Back in Houston, Alief is ground zero.

READ AND WATCH OUR REPORT ON CHROMIUM-6

In November, we showed you the city of Houston’s test results, with levels as high as 6.7 ppb.

KPRC returned to the Alief area and conducted its own testing. The highest reading came in at 4.9 ppb at a home on Huntington Dale.

But that's still well above the California goal of 0.02 ppb.

Another home, on Peach Grove Drive, measured 4.8 ppb.

A home on Glenwolde Drive measured 3.3 ppb.

The lowest measurement we found was 1.9 ppb at the water fountain outside the Keegan Glen Recreation Center.

The EPA is responsible for regulating drinking water.

But the agency has no standard specifically for chromium-6.

In reference to Alief, the EPA said, "It is agency policy not to comment on any ongoing or potential investigations."


Houston City Councilmember Steve Le represents Alief. He spoke about the new results, including test results from Mata Intermediate School, with a chromium-6 level at 4.1.

"It's doesn't comfort us, but one thing is that it's still acceptable drinking water -- at least, at that level," Le said.

If you're concerned, Le suggested, "Use some type of filter. As a parent, I'm very concerned, as all of us should be, but how do you have that concern on something the EPA or even the state of California, city of Houston, TCEQ set as a standard -- and it's within that standard? As a parent, even though we're concerned, we have to abide by that standard and treatment for that standard."

Mata Intermediate is the same place where the Texas Health and Environmental Alliance hosted a town hall meeting about safe drinking water.

“We know for a fact that there are levels above the threshold that's known to cause adverse human health effects,” said Jackie Young, the executive director of TxHEA. “So we're educating and engaging residents to ask the city of Houston to go above and beyond their legal federal standards and test and isolate where this source is coming from."

HOW TO KEEP YOUR DRINKING WATER FREE OF CHROMIUM 6

After our first story, U.S. Rep. Al Green asked the EPA to investigate what's happening in Alief.

Read the EPA letter

Now, he's upping the ante.

"We are close to something," Green said. "In my opinion, (it’s) similar to what the tobacco industry was experiencing when they were in denial about a carcinogen."

Green wants a hearing, and is sending a letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

"I am writing to request that the House Committee on Energy and Commerce hold a hearing and investigate the prevalence of Chromium-6 in drinking water in Houston, Texas,” it reads in part.

Green is proposing a House resolution as well.

"This resolution encourages Congress to consider a tax break for persons who purchase filtration systems so they can have safe drinking water for their kids and for themselves," Green said.

The EPA told Channel 2 Investigates that it is working to assess chromium-6's risk and it will have a draft assessment sometime later this year.

The city of Dayton sent this statement to KPRC: "We at the city of Dayton take the quality of our drinking water very seriously. The city follows all regulations concerning water quality set forth by the Texas Commission on Environmental quality (TCEQ).

"The TCEQ performs annual quality tests on the city’s water. The test results are then given to the city via a Consumer Confidence Report, which is available for viewing on the city of Dayton’s website. The city then follows any recommendations made by the TCEQ as a result of its findings. Additionally, the city tests its water for bacteria on a monthly basis. Currently, Chromium-6 is not a contaminant tested for by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations do not currently require testing for chromium-6.

"As previously stated, we at the city of Dayton take our water quality very seriously. The city welcomes any inquiries or questions regarding its water quality.”

The city of Richmond sent KPRC2 this statement:

"In response to the story which appeared on KPRC’s Click2houston on Friday, the City of Richmond wants to let citizens know the City has always taken the issue of water quality very seriously, and continues to be confident the quality of the water is safe to drink. The City meets or exceeds all water quality standards set by the Texas Commission on Environmental  Quality (TCEQ). The City and TCEQ perform regular water quality tests on the City’s water to ensure it is safe and high quality. The information from these tests is available via the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) which is published annually.

"The TCEQ monitors total chromium in drinking water, which includes trivalent chromium and hexavalent chromium (chromium 6), as part of their regular chemical analysis.  At present the MCL (maximum contaminant level) for total chromium is 100 ppb (parts per billion). The concern in the news piece focused on the detection of Chromium 6 in drinking water from surrounding public water supplies.   Comparisons were made from the area results to the California Health Goal, which is not a regulated water quality standard.  The state of California has established a water quality standard of 10 ppb for chromium 6 for their public water supplies.  None of the samples collected in Richmond or the ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction) exceeded the stricter California MCL of 10 ppb.  To check chromium 6 levels in your drinking water, input your zip code on this interactive map- http://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2016-chromium6-lower-48.php."

Check chromium-6 levels in your drinking water with this interactive map

INTERACTIVE MAP TO CHECK YOUR WATER

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