New water tests in Houston show presence of cancer-causing chromium 6

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

HOUSTON - The numbers are in and there's no denying it: People in Houston are drinking chromium 6.

Scientists agree that at a certain point - chromium 6 can cause cancer.

What remains up for debate is whether the amount in our water is harmful.

While chromium 6 can be found in small amounts across the city, the ZIP code testing highest has us returning year after year to 77099.

"The water is polluted, it's bad. It's terrible," said Akey, an Alief resident.

He has lived in Alief with his wife for more than five years.

"Since I moved in here, I don't even give my dog to drink it. The water is so bad. I use it on my plants, pretty much, that's about it," Akey said.

States differ on the amount of chromium 6 that is considered acceptable.

In California, their public health officials said cancer rates start to rise at a concentration of 0.02 parts per billion.

The EPA only requires our city to test the water for total chromium - not just chromium 6.

Houston City Council member Steve Le represents the district where numbers are elevated in Alief.

Le admits he's been drinking more bottled water since Channel 2 Investigates starting airing its reports.

"I feel for my neighbors who cannot afford bottled water, it's expensive!" Le said.

In 2017, he asked the city to begin specifically testing chromium 6 levels more frequently.

Since our last report, the city tested the water two more times.

Here are the latest numbers.

"So it's not a happy ending obviously, because you know obviously any amount is a worse amount," said Le. He added my question to Public Works which was, 'Is this from the surface water? Or is this from the reservoir? and what did they think may have caused the drop?'"

After looking at all the test results, Le said Hurricane Harvey could offer one explanation.

With a huge influx of water, he wonders if chromium 6 just got diluted.

Still, the most important question remains how to get rid of it.

Le said residents may need a reverse osmosis filtration system or the city may need to re-route the areas where they draw water.

Both are costly.

"I'm still waiting for Congressman Al Green to get back to me to see what kind of funding we can get. He assured me that he's working on it and he's pretty positive that we can get some kind of funding," said Le.

Last year, Green did author a resolution asking for a tax break to help people afford filtration systems.

And he wrote the EPA asking for a hearing.

But, neither idea has gotten off the ground.

"We've been in contact with the EPA, not only with the letter but we've been in contact with them about coming to Houston," said Green.

And he's asked the EPA to come up with a standard for chromium 6 in tap water.

The EPA sent us this statement:

“EPA is working on the development of an Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment, which will include a comprehensive evaluation of potential health effects associated with both inhalation and ingestion of hexavalent chromium. EPA anticipates that a public comment draft of the assessment will be released in late 2019.”

Previously, the EPA indicated the draft report would be available in the end of 2016, then in the end of 2017.

We reached out to the EPA to find out the reason for this most recent delay, however, we're waiting on a response.

In the meantime, as Akey and his wife get ready to host friends for lunch, they'll make sure to avoid the tap water.

"I give them bottled water to drink. I don't give them city water," said Akey.

Previously, the City of Houston Public Works Department released this information on chromium 6 to residents.

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