Chromium-6 in Phoenix Water

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An average water sample in Phoenix has the highest level of chromium-6, a suspected cancer-causing agent, among water utilities that have more than one million customers. We talked to city water officials about the topic, and we will hear from Paul Westerhoff, Arizona State University Professor and Senior Advisor on Science and Engineering to the ASU Vice Provost, who has done research on chromium-6 and a new way to remove it.

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TED SIMONS: WE HEARD LAST NIGHT FROM THE CITY OF PHOENIX DIRECTOR AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF WATER SERVICES ON A REPORT THAT SHOWED HIGH LEVELS OF A SUSPECTED CANCER CAUSING AGENT IN THE CITY'S WATER SUPPLY. TONIGHT, WE HEAR MORE ON THE SUBJECT FROM PAUL WESTERHOFF. SENIOR ADVISORY TO THE PROVOST FOR ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE AT ASU. WHAT IS CHROMIUM-6, WHICH IS WHAT THIS REPORT SAID WAS FOUND QUITE A BIT IN PHOENIX WATER?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: I THINK OF, YOU KNOW, THE MOST FAMOUS STORY ABOUT THIS TYPE OF THING IS THE ERIN BROCKOVICH STORY. THE UNTOLD STORY, IT'S A CHEMICAL THAT WEATHERS FROM ROCKS AND MINERALS ACROSS ARIZONA AND THE WHOLE SOUTHWEST AND THE WHOLE COUNTRY THAT CAN GET NO WATER AND STAY THERE FOR QUITE A LONG TIME.

TED SIMONS: IS THIS A MAN MIND PRODUCT, A BYPRODUCT OF CHROMIUM --

PAUL WESTERHOFF: IT CAN BE. SOME OF THE SOURCES CAN BE INDUSTRIAL SOURCES WHERE THEY'VE DONE CHROME PLATING AND IT LEAKS INTO GROUNDWATER. BUT IT'S A NATURALLY OCCURRING ELEMENT IN THE ROCKS AND MINERALS AND AS THEY WEATHER AND DEGRADE, THEY'LL RELEASE CHROMIUM.

TED SIMONS: ARE WE SURE ABOUT THE HEALTH EFFECTS. IT SOUNDS LIKE STOMACH CANCER IS A POSSIBILITY.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: YOU CAN HAVE SOME FORMS OF CHROMIUM THAT ARE IN VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS YOU TAKE. BUT THERE ARE TWO FORMS THAT ARE IMPORTANT. CHROME 3 AND SOMETHING CALLED CHROME 6 AND CHROME 6 IS AN OXIDIZED FORM. THAT'S MORE REACTIVE WITH CELLULAR TERM THAN THE CHROMIUM IN A SUPPLEMENT.

TED SIMONS: AND THAT'S THE HEXAVALENT CHROMIUM.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: THEY'RE REALLY THE SAME CHEMICAL NAME.

TED SIMONS: WE HAD THE CITY OF PHOENIX FOLKS IN HERE AND I BELIEVE THE PHRASE WAS "GROSSLY MISREPRESENTED." IN THE SENSE THEY DEFINE GROUNDWATER AND SURFACE WATER AND THE GROUNDWATER -- STOP ME IF I SAY ANYTHING WRONG. THE GROUNDWATER HAS A LOT MORE OF THE CHROME 6 THAN SURFACE WATER AND THEY USE MORE SURFACE WATER THAN GROUNDWATER. THUS, THE REPORT LOOKS AT AN AVERAGE, BUT WHAT'S COMING OUT OF YOUR TAP REALLY ISN'T THAT AVERAGE. IT'S FAR LESS BECAUSE OF THE BLEND.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: WHAT COOLS OUT OF A TAP IN PHOENIX MIGHT NOT BE THE SAME AS IF THE EAST VALLEY CITIES OR FURTHER NORTH OR OUTSIDE OF SEDONA. SO THROUGHOUT ARIZONA, YOU CAN BE DRINKING 100% GROUNDWATER AT SOME LOCATIONS. I THINK THE CITY PEOPLE WERE RIGHT FOR THE CITY OF PHOENIX BY THAT BEHAVIOR AND TREATMENT OF THE WATER VARIES CITY TO CITY AND THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE INCLUDING PRIVATE WELLS THAT CAN DRINK 100% GROUNDWATER. SO NATURALLY WEATHERS AND PLACES THAT HAVE PUT IN ARSENIC TREATMENT SYSTEMS TO MEET RECENT DRINKING WATER LIMIT FROM THE EPA, COULD HAVE HEXAVALENT CHROME CO-OCCURRING AT THE SAME TIME.

TED SIMONS: BUT WHAT TAKES OUT THE ARSENIC --

PAUL WESTERHOFF: HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS PUT INTO ARSENIC TREATMENT WERE PUT IN TO REMOVE ONE THING, ARSENIC AND NOT HEXAVALENT CHROME.

TED SIMONS: HOW DO YOU GET RID OF HEXAVALENT CHROME?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: THERE ARE CERTAIN CHEMICALS THAT ARE PERSISTENT. THE MOST COMMON TECHNOLOGY IS ION CHANGE, SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU USE TO REMOVE CALCIUM OR HARDNESS, YOU NEED A DIFFERENT TYPE OF RESIN MATERIAL TO ABSORB IT OUT OF THE WATER.

TED SIMONS: ANYTHING ON THE MARKET RIGHT NOW, AS FAR AS THE BIG TUBE THINGS OR THE THING UNDER YOUR SINK OR THE HAND THING YOU PUT UNDER YOUR FAUCET.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: PITCHERS AND THINGS UNDER YOUR SINK HAVE DIFFERENT CLAIMS. THE THING THAT YOU WOULD USE, THE BEST IS UNDER THE SINK, SOME REVERSE OSMOSIS SYSTEMS WILL REMOVE HEXAVALENT CHROME. THEY WASTE A LOT OF WATER, 70% OR MORE OF THE WATER THAT GOES IN WOULD BE WASTED DOWN THE DRAIN. THE OTHER SYSTEMS THAT ARE FILTERS OR JUST ADVERTISED AS WATER SOFTENERS WEREN'T REMOVE IT. WE'RE WORKING AT ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY THAT CAN REVIEW HEXAVALENT CHROME --

TED SIMONS: WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS WHEN THESE PEOPLE SAY LOOK, WE GET RID OF CHROMIUM, THAT'S NICE, THAT'S NOT CHROMIUM-6.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: YEAH, THERE'S TWO FORMS OF CHROMIUM AND THE CLAIMS ON A LOT ARE USUALLY TO REMOVE CHROMIUM. THAT DOESN'T REMOVE HEXAVALENT CHROMIUM.

TED SIMONS: WILL IT EVER HIT THE MARKET?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: THE TECHNOLOGY IS OUT THERE, IT'S ABOUT DEMAND, THE MANUFACTURERS WHO WANT TO SCALE THINGS UP CAN FUNCTIONALIZE OR CHANGE THE PRODUCT SILENT AND ENHANCE THEM TO REMOVE THE HEXAVALENT CHROME AND WE THINK WE'RE WORKING WITHIN ONE COMPANY WITHIN 12-18 MONTHS WOULD HAVE MATERIALS ON THE MARKET.

TED SIMONS: THESE ARE UNDER THE SINK TYPE OF THINGS?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: POINTS OF USE THAT CAN PUT IN THE POURING TYPES OF PITCHERS TYPES OF THINGS. FAIRLY LOW COST, THINGS YOU CAN BUY AT PLACES LIKE HOME DEPOT.

TED SIMONS: ALL RIGHT, IS PHOENIX'S DRINKING WATER, IS THE DRINKING WATER IN THE VALLEY -- IS THE DRINKING WATER FROM THE STATE SAFE IN.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: IT'S NOT SAFE TO DRIVE A CAR TO WORK, RIGHT? IT'S A BIG CONTINUUM AND I THINK EVERYONE HAS TO JUDGE THE RISKS FOR THEMSELVES. BUT WHETHER IT MEETS THE EXISTING REGULATIONS OR THE REGULATIONS ACROSS THE BORDER IN CALIFORNIA, MOST OF THE WATER IN THE PHOENIX METRO AREA WILL MEET EVEN THE DRINKING WATER LIMIT OF HEXAVALENT CHROME IN CALIFORNIA WHICH IS MUCH MORE STRINGENT.

TED SIMONS: SHOULD PHOENIX RESIDENTS, STATE RESIDENTS USE THE WATER PURIFIERS?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: PERSONALLY I DON'T. I HAVE A SMALL SYSTEM UNDER MY SINK THAT REMOVES THE TASTE OF THE CHLORINE IN THE WATER AND THAT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME AND MY CHILDREN AND FAMILY. ALL OF THESE ARE PREFERENCES, I'D BE AWARE THAT SOME OF THE THINGS LIKE REVERSE OSMOSIS WILL REMOVE HEXAVALENT CHROME, IT CAN REMOVE FLUORIDE.

TED SIMONS: WHAT DOES IT REMOVE?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: PARTICLES OF CORROSION OR COPPER THAT CAME OFF OR THE TYPES OF FILTERS THEY PUT INTO A FLINT, MICHIGAN, TO CONTROL LEAD PARTICLES SO THE TYPES OF THINGS THAT -- PARTICLES AND THE TYPES OF THINGS UNDER MY SINK TO MAKE IT TASTE BETTER.

TED SIMONS: THEY UNDERSTAND THE CONCERN REGARDING THIS AND WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, IS IT A HEAVY COST RIGHT NOW?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: IT CAN BE A LARGE COST, DEPENDING ON IF THERE WAS A FEDERAL REGULATION. IF THEY SET IT AT WHAT CALIFORNIA'S IS, 10 PARTS PER BILLION FOR HEXAVALENT CHROME. BUT A DIFFERENT RISK LEVEL. IT COULD BE 10 TIMES THAT. CITIES DON'T WANT TO INVEST UNTIL THEY UNDERSTAND THE CERTAINTY OF THE REGULATION. THEY DON'T WANT TO PUT IN TECHNOLOGY THAT COSTS TOO MUCH BECAUSE THAT CAN AFFECT YOUR WATER BILL.

TED SIMONS: I MEAN, IF YOUR TEAM COMES UP WITH SOMETHING YOU CAN PUT UNDER YOUR SINK, THE CITY WOULD EASE BACK AGAIN?

PAUL WESTERHOFF: EVERYONE IS DESERVEABLE OF GETTING SAFE DRINKING WATER; IT SHOULDN'T BE IF YOU CAN AFFORD THESE TECHNOLOGIES. SO THEY'RE WAITING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE FEDERAL REGULATION IS GOING TO BE. THE FEDERAL EPA DID A MONITORING PROGRAM THAT ENDED A FEW YEARS AGO AND NOW THEY'RE DOING A RISK AND ECONOMIC ASSESSMENT TO UNDERSTAND IF THEY SHOULD SET A NEW REGULATION. CALIFORNIA WANTED TO REDUCE THE HEALTH RISKS DOWN TO THE 10 PARTS PER BILLION LEVEL.

TED SIMONS: GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

PAUL WESTERHOFF: THANKS, TED.

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