The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Local Tap Water Contains Cancer-Causing Metal

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 20, 2010 2:00PM

2010_12_20_tapwater.jpg Charles ChanWe're proponents of tap water over bottled water, but this makes us take some notice. A new study commissioned by an environmental watchdog group found elevated traces of a metal that has been known to cause cancer in tap water samples from 31 cities, including Chicago.

The study, commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, found the levels of hexavalent chromium in local tap water to be at 0.18 parts per billion, more than three times the safety limit imposed by California last year. That puts our levels of hexavalent chromium in the tap water equal to New York City, but lower than Los Angeles. Hexavalent chromium is the metal that was the subject of the class action suit that made Erin Brokovich a household name. Ingestion of hexavalent chromium has been known to cause stomach cancer.

The Environmental Working Group is hoping the study will lead to more stringent testing guidelines of tap water by the EPA, which currently doesn't have testing procedures in place for the metal. The study is yet another snapshot of what does and does not get tested in tap water. In recent years, other studies have found scores of unregulated substances in our tap water, from industrial chemicals to pharmaceuticals to DEET,that can get past conventional filtering methods. Chromium can be found naturally in the environment, but is also released into our waterways by industrial companies.

Chicago Breaking News' attempts to reach the Department of Water Management were unsuccessful. But Milwaukee water quality control manager Lon Couillard said of the study, "they're trying to scare people."

Um, yeah.

It's unknown what the source of the chromium is in Chicago's tap water, but there are four steel mills in Northwest Indiana that discharge wastewater into Lake Michigan. The waste in that water includes chromium. Before you start to panic and stock up on bottled water, remember that most bottled water comes from public sources.