New Test Results: Cancer-causing chemical still detected in Houston’s tap water

HOUSTON – A toxic and cancer-causing chemical is in the city of Houston’s drinking water. For years KPRC 2 Investigates has relentlessly reported on the safety of our drinking water and elevated levels of chromium-6.

Now, we have the brand new test results.

The city of Houston was only federally mandated to test the drinking water specifically for Chromium-6 from 2013-2014.

The highest readings of 6.7 parts per billion were found in zip code 77099.

After our reports aired, the city’s Public Works Department agreed to continue testing Alief’s drinking water.

New test results

Over the years the levels have fluctuated.

The December 2019 results show, some areas are almost undetectable, but others are higher than ever.

"It's in way more of our water supplies than I think anyone of us have imagined," said Erin Brockovich, environmental crusader, famous for a real-life movie about her fight against Chromium 6.

What the numbers mean

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a total standard for chromium in drinking water at 100 parts per billion (ppb).

In California, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) stated cancer risks start to increase at .02 ppb.

Here’s the catch about chromium-6, even though scientists say it can cause cancer -- technically Houston’s water is declared safe to drink.

The reason, there is no federal standard just for chromium-6 in drinking water.

“It’s a way for us not to find out, we’re obviously our new revolution is technology and Google and we can find information like never before and we’re starting to realize this chromium 6 it’s a bad act,” Brockovich said.

The city’s plan

Tiffany Thomas, Alief’s new councilmember, said, “Within the first 30-40 days I met with Public Works to address this issue specifically.”

Thomas said even though it’s not federally mandated, Houston Public Works will continue to test the tap water for Chromium 6.

“The larger question is to engage with our federal representatives to change these guidelines,” she said.

The federal plan

For years, KPRC 2 Investigates has been having dialogue at the federal level about chromium-6 in Houston's water.

Last year, Congressman Al Green and other members of Congress wrote a letter to the EPA urging them to set a new federal standard.

READ: After multiple KPRC 2 investigations, members of Congress demand change from EPA

“The EPA, in my opinion, has been dragging its feet,” Green said. “We’ve got to get the EPA to understand this is critical crucial and important.”

KPRC 2 Investigates has reached out to the EPA multiple times about a timeline for setting a standard exclusively for chromium-6 in drinking water.

At first, a draft assessment was supposed to be released in 2017. Now that’ll happen by 2022.

Change on a local level?

We asked Thomas, instead of seeking help from the federal level, can the city come up with its own standard or health goal?

“I think inquiry is important cause it allows us to think differently about what was done and so we have the opportunity to introduce something I’m totally willing to take lead on that,” Thomas said.

Safety of your drinking water

How safe is the drinking water in your town?

Here is an interactive map. You can search for chromium-6 in drinking water by zip code.

Interactive Map

About the Authors:

Award-winning broadcast journalist covering local, regional, national and international stories. Recognized in the industry for subject matter expertise including: Legal/Court Research, the Space Industry, Education, Environmental Issues, Underserved Populations and Data Visualization.