As with all issues in life, if you ask the right questions you are more likely to come up with relevant answers. When it comes to exposure to a heavy metal called chromium VI (also called hexavalent chromium) in drinking water, the questions and answers become politically charged.
What environmental activist Erin Brokovich campaigns about, the contamination of drinking water in her town of Hinkley, California, represents industrial exposure, not environmental exposure to chromium VI. [Wikipedia]
Since chromium VI in small doses is found in soil and water and air, it is ubiquitous in nature. Should we be concerned? Probably not, but there is more to this story.
A prevalent question, now that news headlines blast a potential health threat from chromium VI that “contaminates” the drinking water of 218 million Americans [Medscape Sept 23, 2016] and pollutes 90% of water systems in America [CNN Sept 21, 2016], is what to do about it? Should we rely on government to fix the problem (if there is one), or take action on our own?
Before everybody runs to buy bottled water (which I prefer), the so-called health hazard (namely cancer) posed by chromium VI is estimated to cause 12,000 excess cases of cancer by the end of the century according to the Environmental Working Group if water supplies remain untreated. However, to be more precise, those cases of cancer from exposure to chromium VI are estimated. It is not a body count.
For comparison, if you are smoking a cigarette you are getting hundreds of times more chromium VI in your lungs than from natural airborne contamination. [IARC Monograph- International Agency For Research On Cancer]
Furthermore, the lowest water concentrations of chromium VI that cause cancer in laboratory mice are 74,5000 times higher than the approximate human dose that corresponds to the dose concentration established by the Environmental Working Group and 1000 times higher than the highest reported concentration of chromium VI found in drinking water. [Regulatory Toxicology & Pharmacology 2015]
California has strictest chromium VI standard
California has the strictest cap on chromium VI contamination of 10 parts per billion. California set a much lower limit on exposure to chromium VI of 0.02 parts per billion but set the legal limit 500 times higher because it is impractical to attempt to achieve a 0.02 limit for the time being. The target goal is 0.02 and the cap is 10 parts per billion.
Hinkley, California’s groundwater, where Erin Brokovich campaigned to clean up tap water, had a reported peak concentration of chromium VI of 3.1 parts per billion. [LA Times April 12, 2015]
A U.S. chromium VI map doesn’t reveal very high amounts of chromium VI in tap water except in Norman Oklahoma (12.0 parts per billion). [City Water Filter] California, Arizona and Oklahoma have the highest levels of chromium VI in drinking water. There are sites in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California and Arizona that exceed the 10 parts per billion limit. [cr6study.info] A 31-city report on the amount of chromium VI found in 31 U.S. cities is available. [PBS]
Maybe a half million workers in the US are exposed to chromium VI in industry, mostly where metal products are “chromed”. Welders are exposed to chromium VI more so than other occupations. The tanning industry creates a lot of chromium VI.
An estimated 2700-2900 tons of chromium VI are emitted into the atmosphere annually in the US, contaminating soil and water. Food mostly has chromium III, not VI.
Chromium VI and cancer
Almost all population studies show a slightly elevated risk for lung cancer from exposure to chromium VI, but this is mostly comprised of workers exposed to this heavy metal in fumes and dust in the workplace where chromium VI enters the lungs directly, not via drinking water.
Chromium VI that enters the blood circulation is rapidly attached to metal-chelating proteins made naturally or acquired from the diet. This detoxifies chromium VI. Then chromium VI is excreted in urine and feces.
The problem is that in an inflammatory state in the body, chromium may be detached from its carrier proteins and as an unbound heavy metal may unleash a powerful toxic reaction that damages human genes (DNA).
Most accurate assessment of chromium VI threat
Oddly, the most responsible and accurate assessment of the potential health threat posed by chromium VI comes from a radio station in New Jersey (101.5) that calls news and scientific reports “irresponsible and misleading.”
Most water sources in the US are below the California standard of 10 parts per billion, but there are some water sources that exceed the ultimate but unrealistic California goal of 0.02 parts per billion. [nj101.5.com Sept 24, 2016]
For comparison, consider the health threat posed by arsenic in tap water. Arsenic is a metalloid chemical. An estimated 36 million Americans drink water containing arsenic above the 3 parts per billion limit. [Natural Resources Defense Council]
Is tap water safe to drink?
Is tap water safe to drink? Well, yes, kinda. Tap water has measured levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, other heavy metals, pharmaceutical drugs, and other industrial chemicals including perchlorate (rocket fuel). In fact, analysis of 59 small streams in the U.S. found the anti-diabetic drug metformin in almost all of them even though only trace amounts were found. [Daily Mail UK Oct 3, 2016]
One of the most toxic chemicals known, chlorine, is added to water to kill off pathogenic bacteria, fungi and amoeba. Without chlorinated water, diseases like dysentery, cholera and typhoid ran rampant in populations. Water chlorination is one of the great advances in public hygiene. However, chlorinated water does increase the lifetime risk of developing bladder and rectal cancer, where it pools into greater concentrations. [Scientific American]
Since we are purposefully adding a little bit of a toxin (chlorine) to our water supplies to kill of pathogens, maybe would shouldn’t get too worked up over chromium VI other than industrial water contamination, what Erin Brokovich campaigned against.
Oral antioxidants to protect against chromium VI toxicity
Oral antioxidants have undergone testing to counter the toxic effects of chromium VI.
The major dietary antioxidant that counters chromium VI toxicity is vitamin C. Vitamin C reduces 90% of the oxidative threat posed by chromium VI. [Carcinogenesis 1992] The published reports validating the effectiveness of vitamin C in reduction of abolishment of DNA damage caused by chromium VI is abundant. [Environmental Health Perspectives Sept 1994; Journal Applied Toxicology Nov 2005; Molecular Medicine Reports July 2013]
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), available as a dietary supplement, is well established as an antidote to chromium VI poisoning. [Journal Pharmaceutical Biomedical Analysis Jan 2016; PLoS One Sept 2014; Free Radical Medicine Biology Dec 2013]
The red wine molecule resveratrol is also cited as a molecule that protects against chromium VI toxicity by activation of internal enzymatic antioxidants in the body (glutathione, catalase, superoxide dismutase). [Toxicology Applied Pharmacology 2016]
Garlic ingestion is an well-documented approach to negating the toxic effects of chromium VI. [Journal Basic Clinical Physiology & Pharmacology 2009; Journal Applied Toxicology Oct 2008] The key molecule in garlic is allicin [International Journal Environmental Research Public Health Sept 2008], which is easily destroyed by stomach acid unless a garlic clove is crushed prior to ingestion allowing an enzyme (alliinase) to yield allicin, or by consumption of a unique alkalinized garlic pill that assuredly produces allicin. [Garlinex]
A more novel but traditional preventive or therapeutic agent against chromium VI accumulation is the oral consumption of metal-chelating clays. [Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry 2010]
A landmark text THE TRACE MINERAL STORY published in 1980 declared Montmorillonite clay (trade name Panak-Ite) is best suited for dietary supplementation and is obtained from a unique clay bed in Nevada. [Distributor: Lifespan Nutrition]
Clays are adsorbent and clean up oils like an automobile oil spill on a garage floor. These clays can also be purchased in bulk to clean up water supplies. [Window Peak Pank-Ite]
Workers in industrial settings exposed to high levels of chromium VI should be detoxing with the above dietary supplements.
Clean up of water supplies
There are published reports that show natural chelators (key-lay-tors) found in rice bran (phytate IP6) can be used to clean up contaminated water. [Journal Hazardous Materials Sept 2014] IP6 is also available as a dietary supplement and binds to all heavy metals.
There are also reverse osmosis water filtration systems that have been documented to filter out chromium VI effectively. [Amazon.com] There is the Environmental Working Group’s water filter buying guide available online. [EWG.org]
Accumulated/combined hazard over time
However, one of the problems with assessment of toxins in drinking water supplies is that they are considered individually, not in total, and not over a lifetime.
Metallic mineral accumulation can produce adverse effects in biology. For example, the accumulation of chromium VI in plants has been shown to inhibit the production of chlorophyll. [Chemosphere Oct 2000]
The accumulated heavy metals burden (chromium, cadmium, lead and arsenic) in drinking water in Bangladesh exceeds safe limits. [Environmental Nanotechnology, Monitoring & Management May 2016] One study in Pakistan reveals chromium VI sample of 1.313 milligrams per liter of water but total of all minerals tested (cadmium, lead, nickel, zinc, iron, copper and chromium VI) amounted to 4.214 milligrams per liter. [Journal Pharmaceutical Sciences & Research 2015]
Some heavy metals can be stored in organs like the liver and brain where they accumulate and wreak havoc later in life. Chromium VI accumulates in all organs in laboratory mice. [Toxicological Profile for Chromium]
The combined accumulation of heavy metals (antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, cerium, chromium, cobalt, copper, gallium, gold, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, platinum, silver, tellurium, thallium, tin, uranium, vanadium, and zinc, 23 total) in the human body over time is a cause for concern. [Interdisciplinary Toxicology June 2014; International Journal Physical Sciences 2007]
Fish consumption is the greatest contributor to total heavy metal accumulation in the human body. [International Research Journal Public Environmental Health July 2014]
Most heavy metals accumulate in the liver, kidney and gills of fish where they can cause functional disturbances. [Soil & Water Pollution Monitoring 2006]
In fact, the gradual lifetime accumulation of metallic minerals after full growth is achieved in males and with the cessation of menstruation in females is postulated the chief accelerator of aging itself. [Knowledge of Health; Longevinex.com; Resveratrol News]
Bottom line, the potential health hazard posed by chromium VI in drinking water is overstated. The total accumulated metallic mineral load over a lifetime needs to be considered in the maintenance of human health. It is best for adults to include mineral controlling molecules in their diets and food supplements to slow or reverse aging. Some food supplements provide an array of these metal chelators. [Longevinex]