Heavy metal

Reno area residents will soon have a better idea of exactly how much hexavalent chromium—a.k.a. chromium 6, a.k.a. the “Erin Brockovich chemical”—is in their drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the Truckee Meadows Water Authority and other national water utilities to sample local waters for the carcinogenic metal. The two agencies discussed last week how to carry out that suggestion. Their action follows a damning national report released in December from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, which detected chromium 6 in 31 of the 35 cities from which it took water samples. Reno was one of the cities sampled, but the group found no detectable levels here. It also sampled Las Vegas water, which showed levels of 0.06 parts per billion. That’s more than the maximum level of 0.02 ppb that the California EPA—the only state where utilities are required to test for chromium 6—has proposed to protect against excess cancer risk.

Paul Miller, TMWA manager of operations and water quality, said the EPA currently requires local utilities to take samples for “total chromium,” of which chromium 6 is one part. However, these new discussions with the EPA mean TMWA will take separate samples specifically to determine chromium 6 concentrations. The results from that data are expected to be published in TMWA’s 2011 annual water quality report, and perhaps sooner on the agency’s website.