Chromium is a naturally occurring element with three main forms found in the environment: chromium-0, chromium-3 and chromium-6. Chromium is widely used in manufacturing processes and can be found in many consumer products such as wood treated with copper dichromate, leather tanned with chromic sulfate and stainless steel cookware. Individuals may be exposed to chromium through inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. Chromium-3 is a nutrient required to metabolize sugars and lipids.
Chromium-6 is generally used or produced in industrial processes, but can be found naturally. Chromium-6 has been demonstrated to be a carcinogen when inhaled and studies are ongoing to determine if it can also be a carcinogen when ingested.
On January 11, 2011, in response to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a press release and guidance document to water providers around the country. In that document the EPA strongly suggested that communities test their water for the presence of Chromium-6.
The American Water Works Association (AWWA), an international nonprofit scientific and educational society dedicated to safe water, responded to Ms. Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA. The purpose of this response was to contest the method in which the Administration was asking utilities to test for Chromium-6 in the water. Objections included that no fully validated analytical method was being employed, nor are there fully validated standards for laboratories to use. The AWWA also contested the method in which utilities are being asked to test and that the Administration was not following the guidelines of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the scientific principals upon which it relies to set drinking water standards. The AWWA also felt that as the EPA has not completed the risk assessment of chromium-6, utilities could not provide information to their consumers if they tested positive and what is the possible health risk was if they did.