Hexavalent Chromium

Hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, is a known carcinogen with a number of industrial uses, including being used in the production of stainless steel and as an anticorrosive agent. It is found in many hazardous waste sites and can contaminate sources of drinking water. Water sources are expensive to clean up and companies should pay for causing the contamination.
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If hexavalent chromium sounds familiar, it might be because you saw the Academy Award winning film “Erin Brockovich” about Hinkley California. Ms. Brockovich exposed the corporate wrongdoing that was making community members deathly ill.

Now, she works with the attorneys at Weitz & Luxenberg to help other communities around the country who are dealing with corporate contamination in water, air, and soil.

What Is Hexavalent Chromium?

Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium (VI) or chromium-6, is a form of the metallic element chromium. Unlike the more stable form chromium-3, chromium-6 is rarely found in nature and is usually formed by industrial processes. It is a known human carcinogen and can harm the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.(1)

There are many industrial uses for hexavalent chromium. It is used in electroplating, leather tanning, wood preservation, and the production of stainless steel.(2)

Hexavalent chromium is also used as an anticorrosive agent in paints and other coatings. Compounds of hexavalent chromium are used as pigments in inks, dyes, paints, and plastics.(3)

Row of upscale houses

How Communities Are Exposed to Chromium-6

Communities can be exposed to chromium-6 by groundwater contamination. This contamination is often the result of irresponsible companies dumping polluted wastewater that then seeps into the ground or follows a waterway to the public water supply.

Other sources of exposure include releases or spills from nearby industries that use or manufacture chromium-6, and hazardous waste facilities. Chromium has been found in at least 1,127 of the 1,699 current or former hazardous waste sites placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).(4)

Individuals in communities whose water has been polluted by chromium-6 are exposed to this toxic chemical after ingesting contaminated food or water, or by bathing in contaminated water(5). Exposure can also occur from breathing in polluted air or having skin contact with soil containing chromium-6.

Contaminating City Drinking Water

Industrial spills and discharges can contaminate a city’s drinking water with chromium-6. Reckless dumping of toxic waste is another source of drinking water contamination.

Over time, polluted water seeps from pools, lagoons, and leaky tanks into the ground. Eventually contaminants enter the groundwater.

Contaminated water can also enter waterways such as streams and tributaries that feed into reservoirs and lakes that serve as a source for municipal water supplies.

Dirty water running out of pipes

Manufacturers Caught Polluting Water

Perhaps the most well-known instance of chromium-6 polluted groundwater is from Pacific Gas & Electric’s actions in Hinkley, California. PG&E used chromium-6 as an additive to curb rust and corrosion in the cooling towers of its compressor station.(6) From 1952-1966, it dumped the contaminated wastewater into unlined ponds near the station.(7) Over the years, the toxic waste water seeped into the ground and eventually poisoned the drinking water supply.

Have you been exposed to hexavalent chromium as a result of nearby industrial operations? Contact us today.

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In 1991, a single mother working as a law clerk in suburban Los Angeles came across some files documenting a pattern of health issues in Hinkley. That clerk, Ms. Brockovich, eventually convinced hundreds of residents of Hinkley to band together to file a lawsuit against PG&E for poisoning their water and knowingly hiding knowledge of the contamination from the public.

In 1996, due in large part to Ms. Brockovich’s efforts, PG&E settled with the residents of Hinkley for $333 million. Her story was immortalized in film. Since 2009, Ms. Brockovich has been working with Weitz & Luxenberg and to this day continues to advocate for victims of environmental abuse.

Another instance of chromium-6 contaminated groundwater is in Willits, California. Beginning in the early1960s, the hydraulics company Remco Corporation began chrome plating parts using chromium-6. Despite complaints from residents, for years Remco dumped waste. Runoff streamed into a nearby creek.(8)

The factory changed hands a number of times before it finally closed. In 1997, a judge ruled that Whitman Corporation (now PepsiCo) was responsible for cleaning up the site. Ms. Brockovich participated in the lawsuit on behalf of the victims.

In 2017, U.S. Steel spilled more than 300 pounds of chromium-6 into a tributary of Lake Michigan.(9) A broken pipe joint resulted in toxic wastewater spilling into a ditch adjacent to the factory.(10) The nearby community of Ogden Dunes shut off its drinking water intake as a result of the spill and four beaches were closed.

Clear water running out of faucet

Is Your Town’s Drinking Water Contaminated?

The EPA has set the maximum contamination level for total chromium in drinking water at 100 parts per billion (ppb). Some states put the limit at half that. Total chromium includes both chromium-6 and the more stable chromium-3.(11)

Federal law requires public water suppliers perform routine tests of their water and produce an annual “Consumer Confidence Report” (CCR). Depending on where you live, you may be able to find your most recent CCR.

If the levels of chromium in your town’s drinking water exceed EPA limits, contact your elected official officials, water provider or both. Encourage them to seek legal action to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up contamination.

Health Effects from Exposure

Adverse health effects caused by chromium-6 exposure include(12):

  • Lung cancer.
  • Nasal cancer.
  • Sinus cancer.
  • Kidney and liver damage.
  • Nasal and skin irritation, ulceration.
  • Eye irritation and damage.

Chromium-6 Affects Communities

Fixing chromium contamination is incredibly expensive and time consuming. Unfortunately, more than two decades later, the cleanup effort in Hinkley is still ongoing.

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Beyond causing a variety of devastating health consequences for residents, the contamination has gutted property values and the population of the city has dwindled.

Polluters should be held accountable for the harm caused by their negligence and greed. They should be made to pay for full remediation of the water, soil, and air they contaminated. Corporations should also pay for ongoing health monitoring, costs of health care, and lost property values that occurred because of their pollution.

Weitz & Luxenberg Can Help

Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys can help communities and municipalities seek justice, compensation, and environmental remediation from the companies that poisoned them with chromium-6.

We have more than 30 years of experience navigating the legal system to take on reckless corporate greed and obtain justice for innocent victims. We have made some of the world’s most powerful corporations pay for the harm they caused our clients.

Our attorneys previously represented 153 public water systems that were contaminated with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a toxic gasoline additive, and secured a landmark $423 million settlement from some of the largest oil companies.

Under the guidance of the head of our environmental team, we also helped secure the $18.7 billion settlement with BP in the Gulf Oil Spill litigation, the biggest environmental settlement in US history.

Currently, W&L attorneys represent multiple cities fighting for justice after suffering from a poisoned water supply, including:

If your community is suffering from the devastating effects of hexavalent chromium pollution, we are here to help. W&L attorneys take on polluters to make them pay to remediate your water supply and ensure your community has the medical care and health monitoring it needs.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, June 26) Hexavalent Chromium. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hexchrom/default.html
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2019, February 15). Hexavalent Chromium Compounds. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/chromium
  3. United States Department of Labor. (n.d.) Hexavalent Chromium. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/hexavalentchromium/
  4. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. (2015, January 21). Toxic Substances Portal – Chromium. Public Health Statement for Chromium. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=60&tid=17
  5. Ibid.
  6. PG&E. (n.d.) Learn about PG&E environmental restoration at our compressor stations. Retrieved from https://www.pge.com/en_US/about-pge/environment/taking-responsibility/compressor-stations/compressor-stations.page
  7. Baker, D.R. (2013, July 25). Toxic plume spreads, PG&E faces 2nd Hinkley suit. SF Gate. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Toxic-plume-spreads-PG-amp-E-faces-2nd-Hinkley-4688046.php
  8. Associated Press. (2000, April 1). Town Haunted by Fears of Its Past. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2000-apr-01-mn-14887-story.html
  9. Ruppenthal, A. (2018, January 24). Chicago Sues U.S. Steel Over Lake Michigan Pollution. WTTW. Retrieved from https://news.wttw.com/2018/01/24/chicago-sues-us-steel-over-lake-michigan-pollution
  10. Hawthorne, M. (2017, April 12). Chromium spill near Lake Michigan brings new attention to cancer-causing pollutant. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chromium-pollution-lake-michigan-met-2-20170412-story.html
  11. National Toxicology Program. (2018, February). Hexavalent Chromium. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/hexavalent_chromium_508.pdf
  12. Genecov, M. (2019, Jan 29). Still Toxic After All These Years. Grist. Retrieved from https://grist.org/article/the-true-story-of-the-town-behind-erin-brockovich/

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