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Honolulu water is safe, health director stresses

The water department will conduct tests for chromium-6 found in slight levels at one site

By Gary T. Kubota

LAST UPDATED: 02:19 a.m. HST, Jan 06, 2011

The level of a toxic chemical in Honolulu's drinking water found by an environmental research group is "not a huge problem," although government testing is continuing, said state Health Director Neal Palafox.

Palafox said the 2 parts per billion of chromium-6 discovered in Honolulu's drinking water by the Environmental Working Group fell within an acceptable safe range cited by California officials.

Palafox said that while chromium-6 is likely to be found carcinogenic to human beings through eating or drinking, state health studies show a continuing reduction in stomach cancers in Hawaii since 1975.

He said that if chromium-6 were present at significant levels, he would expect the incidences of stomach cancers to remain about the same.

Palafox, a medical doctor, made the comments during a presentation yesterday before the state Senate committees on Health and on Energy and Environment, called after news reports about chromium-6 in Honolulu drinking water.

Palafox said California has set a revised public health goal of 0.02 ppb for chromium-6 in drinking water, but the goal does not require compliance.

Palafox said chromium-6 occurs naturally in drinking water nationally ranging upward to 10 ppb.

The Environmental Working Group conducted tests of 35 cities, including Honolulu, and found 2 ppb of chromium-6 in a sample at a residence in the Wilhelmina Rise area.

The sample was the second highest level of chromium-6 found among the 35 samples.

The group has been advocating the establishment of a federal standard for chromium-6 in drinking water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a maximum contaminant level for chromium of 100 parts per billion, including chromium-6 and chromium-3.

But the agency has no drinking water standard for chromium-6.

The Honolulu Board of Water is planning to conduct tests at various water sources on Oahu to determine the presence of chromium-6.

Water agency spokesman Kurt Tsue said the results probably will be known by late January or early February.

Senate Health Chairman Dr. Josh Green asked officials to provide an update on their review of chromium-6 by April 5.

Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, reached levels higher than 580 ppb in drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., that led to a $333 million legal settlement with residents and Pacific Gas & Electric in the movie "Erin Brockovich," according to the environmental group.

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