WASHINGTON D.C. • Sen. Barbara Boxer proposed two separate bills Tuesday that will set a drinking water standard for two different chemicals that have contaminated water in the area recently.
Boxer wants the United States Environmental Protection Agency to set a drinking water standard for perchlorate and chromium 6. If passed, both the chromium 6 and the perchlorate bills will require the U.S. EPA to set a health advisory for the chemical 90 days after the bill becomes law, and then set a federal drinking water standard within 12 months after the bill becomes law. The bill did not specify what levels either chemical should be set at, but stated that the EPA should consider and fully protect pregnant women, infants and children, who are thought to be more sensitive to the effects of both chemicals.
There is currently a drinking water standard of 100 parts per billion of total chromium — which contains both harmful chromium 6 and less dangerous chromium 3 — but currently there is no state or national drinking water standard for chromium 6. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment for the California EPA recently proposed a public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion. The public health goal cannot be enforced, but will be used to set a statewide drinking water standard for the chemical.
Carmela Gonzalez — a former Hinkley resident and activist who has been working to get information about chromium 6 out to the public — was happy that Boxer had proposed legislation that would set a drinking water standard for chromium 6. She said she hoped that the standard for chromium 6 would protect people's health and not be changed by outside influences.
"I hope the determination of the value that is protective of public health is determined by toxicologists and is not influenced by the politics of big business," said Gonzalez.
A representative from Pacific Gas and Electric said the company would continue to work with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board to reduce the levels of chromium 6 to the goal set by the water board, which is the maximum background level of 3.1 parts per billion.
Members of the water board were traveling Wednesday afternoon and could not be reached by phone.
The chromium 6 contamination began in Hinkley after PG&E used the chemical to prevent rusting in cooling water for its compression tower in Hinkley. The contaminated water was dumped into unlined ponds at the site, where it began seeping into the groundwater. The plume of contaminated water is now about two miles long and nearly a mile wide.
Perchlorates were also an issue for residents living in the area. It is regulated by the state of California with a drinking water standard of 6 parts per billion, but there is no federal regulation for the chemical.
Perchlorates above the state drinking water standard were found in one of the wells supplying Barstow's water last November. Water from the contaminated Golden State Water Company well was shut off, but perchlorates still remain in the ground in the area.
Investigators from the U.S. EPA, Lahontan water board and other state and county agencies are working to discover the source of the contamination so it can be cleaned up.
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Chromium 6 information meeting
Who: Hosted by the Lahontan Water Regional Water Control Board
What: Informational meeting about the chromium 6 cleanup in Hinkley
When: Thursday from 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Where: Hinkley Elementary School, 37600 Hinkley Road, Hinkley
Why: Results of groundwater monitoring chromium tests, health effects of chromium 6, Environmental Impact Report update, summary of comments on the feasibility study