Alert: 218 Million Americans Poisoned with a Cancer-causing Toxin that Erin Brockovich Fought Against
In 1993, the environmental activist, Erin Brockovich, despite not being trained in the law, built a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California.
Erin’s case against PG&E claimed the contamination of drinking water, saying the dangerous cancer-causing substance hexavalent – or chromium-6 -existed in the southern California town of Hinkley.
Chromium-6 is a naturally occurring toxin that is also manufactured for use in steel making, chrome plating, manufacturing dyes and pigments, preserving leather and wood, among others. It is a dangerous substance to humans. A 2008 National Toxicology Program study found that mice and rats who drank chromium-6-laced water developed stomach and intestinal tumors. This led the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to classify oral exposure to chromium-6 as likely to be carcinogenic, in a draft risk assessment.
At the center of Erin’s case was a facility, the Hinkley compressor station, built in 1952 as a part of a natural-gas pipeline connecting to the San Francisco Bay area.
Between 1952 and 1966, PG&E reportedly used chromium-6 in a cooling tower system to fight corrosion. The wastewater was discharged to unlined ponds at the site, and some percolated into the groundwater, affecting an area near the plant, approximately 2 by 1 miles.
In 1996, the case was settled for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in the history of the United States. This brought fame to Erin, and since then, she has become a media personality, documenting her stories in movies and books.
However, 20 years after the case was settled, it has now emerged in a new study that the dangerous substance Erin fought against is present in drinking water in all 50 states of the United States.
On September 19, 2016, figures released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) showed that approximately 218 million Americans have been exposed to the dangerous chromium-6 substance, through their drinking water. The EWG is an American environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands and corporate accountability.
According to EWG, over 75% of the 60,000 water samples gathered between 2013 and 2015, contained levels of chromium-6 above 0.02 parts per billion. California state scientists say that 0.02 is thethreshold, where chromium-6 begins posing a cancer risk over 70 years of consumption.
EWG revealed that the state with the highest amount of chromium-6 in its water, is Phoenix. It is said Phoenix has almost 400 times the amount that Californian scientists set as a health goal.
Below is an info graphic released by EWG, showing the worst affected areas in the United States, pertaining to the dangerous substance.
After EWG published this demining report, Erin told Newsweek in an interview that she never knew the poisoning was so widespread. “This is quite shocking, to be honest,” she said.
EWG is now pressing the EPA to set new standards on chromium-6. EWG is again funding six universities in the United States, to work with local communities to better understand the economic value of water quality.
Co-author of the EWG report, Bill Walker told CNN that the American society today is being poisoned with all sorts of dangerous substances, both in their food and water.
“Americans are exposed to dozens if not hundreds of other cancer-causing chemicals every day in their drinking water, their consumer products and their foods. And what the best science of the last decade tells us is that these chemicals acting in combination with each other can be more dangerous than exposure to a single chemical,” he said.
Water poisoning in the United States dominated the media early this year, only after it emerged in the Michigan city of Flint, that the city’s water has been contaminated with lead, after a change in supplier occurred in 2014.
Flint had switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, leading to the corrosive Flint River water causing lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply. Officials switched the city’s water system, claiming to save money. According to residents, despite the overwhelming evidence that their water had been contaminated with lead, city and state authorities continued to argue that there was nothing wrong with it.
Nearly 100,000 residents of the city’s poor, mostly blacks, were exposed to high levels of lead. Health experts say lead exposure can cause disabilities and behavioral problems in children. During the worst period of the crisis, residents depended heavily on bottled water, which was donated by benevolent individuals and organizations.
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