March 14, 2000
Movie on Chromium Contamination to be Released March 17

On Friday, March 17, the motion picture, Erin Brockovich, will debut in theaters across the country. The movie, starring Julia Roberts, is based on a true story of a $333-million class action lawsuit against a large utility in California, accused of contaminating the water supply of a small California town.

The town's wells were contaminated by hexavalent chromium, which the plaintiffs in the suit claimed led to increased occurrence of arthritis, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, influenza and clubbed feet in their community.

Note: The chromium contamination depicted in the movie occurred prior to enactment of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the rigorous testing and treatment procedures used today.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard for chromium in treated water is 100 parts per billion. One part per billion corresponds to 1 minute in 2,000 years or 1 penny in $10 million.

Chromium occurs naturally in the environment. It is rarely found in water, yet widely distributed in soils and plants. Chromium also can exist in a toxic state as hexavalent chromium, which is associated with industrial waste.

Chromium contamination can be treated through coagulation/filtration, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, or in some cases, lime softening.

Chromium is used in metal alloys, including stainless steel, protective coatings on metal, magnetic tapes and pigments for paints, cement, paper, rubber and other materials

Chromium also is used for numerous industrial purposes, including as a component of wood preservatives and in photochemical processing and industrial water treatment.

For medicinal purposes, chromium compounds are used in astringents and antiseptics.

Although EPA has not linked chromium to cancer, it does pose a threat to the liver, kidneys and nervous system.

This information was provided by the American Water Works Association.

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