Chromium-6 Facts

  • May 17, 2017
  • Fact Sheets

Below are facts about chromium-6, ACWA-sponsored SB 385 (Hueso, 2015), and a May 2017 decision by the Sacramento Superior Court ordering the State Water Resources Control Board to withdraw its maximum contaminant level (MCL) for  chromium-6 and set a new one after it conducts a more thorough study of its economic feasibility.

About Chromium-6

Chromium-6 can occur naturally in the environment from the erosion of chromium deposits. It also is produced through industrial processes and then used in electroplating, pigments manufacture, corrosion control and other manufacturing activities. Chromium-6 also can be produced when chromium-3 enters a disinfecting treatment plant and is oxidized into chromium-6.

The effects of chromium-6 when it is ingested have been the subject of much debate.  It is a known fact that when some forms of chromium-6 are inhaled, they can cause cancer. However, experts have disagreed on its toxicity in drinking water due in part to the possible changes to chromium-6 in the stomach when it is ingested. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently regulates total chromium based on noncancerous effects of the chemical such as its ability to cause liver damage, harm the kidney, damage nerve tissues, and cause skin irritations.

How is Chromium-6 Regulated?

Although California has been monitoring water quality since the 1970s for total chromium – which is chromium-3 and chromium-6 – California began the process to set a separate standard for chromium-6 in 2001 after concerns about the potential health impacts of chromium-6 when ingested through drinking water.

California’s drinking water standard for chromium-6 took effect on July 1, 2014. It established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for chromium-6 in drinking water and is the only drinking water standard for chromium-6 in the nation.

Federal Regulation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the current standards for total chromium and chromium-6.

To learn more about EPA’s chromium-6 activities, please visit EPA’s website.

Sacramento Superior Court Ruling

On May 5, the Sacramento Superior Court issued its final ruling in a case challenging the regulation that set a MCL of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for chromium-6. In California Manufacturers and Technology Association and Solano County Taxpayers Association v. State Water Resources Control Board, the court ordered the State Water Board to withdraw its current MCL and establish a new MCL upon conducting an economic feasibility of compliance. In reaching its decision, the court rejected many of the state’s responses to comments raising concerns about the economic feasibility of meeting the MCL at 10 ppb, especially for small water systems lacking economies of scale. In remanding the MCL, the court stated that the State Water Board should pay particular attention to small water systems and their users.

ACWA immediately reached out to the State Water Board to learn about its next steps in this area. The State Water Board is reviewing the order, determining how to respond to it, compiling questions and determining the answers to the questions. ACWA has already submitted some questions to the State Water Board and is glad to submit additional questions. The State Water Board wants to make sure it has the answers right before it releases information.

The State Water Board may make information available as early as the end of May or beginning of June. In the meantime, the State Water Board is leaving online the relevant information regarding the 2014 MCL, the compliance plan process enacted by ACWA-sponsored SB 385 (Hueso, 2015), and other background information for chromium-6 until it has a better assessment of the court’s order and its impacts.

The Superior Court’s decision can be accessed here.

Questions about the chromium-6 MCL litigation should be directed to ACWA Regulatory Advocate Adam Borchard at (916) 441-4545.

More information on the MCL process is available on the State Water Resources Control Board website.

About SB 385

Public water systems are committed to delivering safe, clean drinking water, but the timeline provided for compliance with California’s chromium-6 drinking water standard did not recognize the complex steps that some water systems must take to achieve the standard. The steps involved – from designing appropriate treatment systems to securing financing to building and testing new treatment facilities – can take up to five years or more and cost millions of dollars.

To address this challenge in 2015, ACWA sponsored SB 385 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego). SB 385 advanced through the Legislature without a single no vote and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2015.

The bill established a carefully monitored process for public water systems to work toward and achieve compliance with the new chromium-6 standard. The measure authorized the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to grant a limited period of time for affected water systems to work toward achieving compliance without being deemed in violation as long as strict safeguards are met.

Safeguards Provided in SB 385

SB 385 provides safeguards under which a water system must work toward achieving compliance if approved by the SWRCB. The safeguards are designed to ensure that a water system is taking the right steps to achieve compliance by the earliest possible date.

Those safeguards include:

  • Required Compliance Plan: A water system must prepare and submit a compliance plan to the SWRCB.
  • Milestone Dates: The plan must describe the actions the water system is taking and will take and the milestone dates for those actions.
  • Earliest Feasible Date/Time Limit: The plan must lead to compliance by the earliest feasible date, which shall in no event extend beyond Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Compliance Plan: The plan must identify available funding sources, the best available technology or technologies for treatment, and other options to achieve and maintain compliance by the earliest feasible date.
  • SWRCB Action: The SWRCB must act affirmatively to either approve or deny the period of time to achieve compliance.
  • Notice to Customers: The water system must provide notice to its customers at least twice per year summarizing the actions it is taking to comply with the standard and including information on alternative sources of drinking water.
  • Annual Report Review: Following approval of the period of time to achieve compliance, the water system must update the SWRCB in written reports on the status of the actions in the approved compliance plan, as required by the SWRCB. The written reports must be approved by the SWRCB. If the SWRCB disapproves a report, the period of time to achieve compliance will no longer apply if the water system fails to submit a revised plan or report within 60 days or submits a revised plan or report that is subsequently disapproved.
  • Bill Sunset: The SWRCB’s authorization to grant a period of time to achieve compliance will sunset automatically on Jan. 1, 2020.

What the Law Does

  • Allows a public water system to apply for a limited period of time to achieve compliance with the chromium-6 standard, subject to approval by the SWRCB.
  • If the period of time to achieve compliance is approved, allows the water system to work toward compliance without being deemed in violation provided that certain conditions are met.
  • Requires water systems to prepare and submit a compliance plan that must be approved by the SWRCB in order to be granted the period of time to achieve compliance; systems granted the time must demonstrate progress toward compliance consistent with the plan. Requires that water customers be informed of compliance progress and provided with information about other sources of drinking water until compliance is reached.

What the Law DOESN’T Do

  • The law does not delay compliance efforts; all affected water systems must continue to take the same steps toward compliance with the MCL that they would have taken without the bill.
  • The law does not exempt any public water systems from compliance with the MCL.
  • The law does not modify the MCL of 10 ppb in any way and does not affect public health because water systems must continue to take the same steps to comply with the MCL.

For questions about SB 385, please contact ACWA Deputy Executive Director for Government Relations Cindy Tuck.

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