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Water: Basic Information about Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants

Basic Information about Chromium in Drinking Water

EPA currently regulates chromium-6 as part of the total chromium drinking water standard. New health effects information has become available since the original standard was set, and EPA is reviewing this information to determine whether there are new health risks that need to be addressed. Additional information can be found on the chromium in drinking water website.
Chromium at a Glance

Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) = 0.1 milligrams per Liter (mg/L) or 100 parts per billion (ppb)

Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) = 0.1 mg/L or 100 ppb

Health Effects
Some people who drink water containing chromium (total) in excess of the MCL over many years could experience allergic

Drinking Water Health Advisories provide more information on health effects

Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number

Sources of Contamination
Discharge from steel and pulp mills; erosion of natural deposits

List of all Regulated Contaminants (PDF) (6 pp, 396 K, About PDF)

Basic Information about Chromium in Drinking Water

Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA. EPA has an enforceable drinking water standard of 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for total chromium, which includes chromium-6 and chromium-3. This standard was established in 1991 and was based on the best available science at the time which indicated that some people who use water containing chromium in excess of the drinking water standard over many years could experience allergic dermatitis (skin reactions).

EPA regularly re-evaluates drinking water standards and, based on new science on chromium-6, had begun a rigorous and comprehensive review of its health effects in 2008. In September 2010, EPA released a draft of that scientific assessment for public comment. When this human health assessment is finalized, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information to determine if a new drinking water standard for chromium-6 or a revision to the current total chromium standard is warranted.

What is chromium?
Chromium is an odorless and tasteless metallic element. Chromium is found naturally in rocks, plants, soil and volcanic dust, humans and animals. The most common forms of chromium that occur in natural waters in the environment are trivalent chromium (chromium-3), and hexavalent chromium (chromium-6).

Chromium-3 is an essential human dietary element and occurs naturally in many vegetables, fruits, meats, grains and yeast. Chromium-6 occurs naturally in the environment from the erosion of natural chromium deposits but it can also be produced by industrial processes. There are demonstrated instances of chromium being released to the environment by leakage, poor storage, or inadequate industrial waste disposal practices.

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What are some uses for chromium?
Metallic chromium is used mainly for making steel and other alloys. Chromium compounds in either the chromium-3 or chromium-6 forms are used for chrome plating, dyes and pigments, leather and wood preservation.

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What are chromium's health effects?
Chromium-3 is a nutritionally essential element in humans and is often added to vitamins as a dietary supplement. Chromium-3 has relatively low toxicity and would be a concern in drinking water only at very high levels of contamination; Chromium-6 is more toxic and poses potential health risks. People who use water containing total chromium in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) over many years could experience allergic dermatitis.

In a September 2010 draft human health assessment for chromium-6, EPA proposed to classify chromium-6 as likely to be carcinogenic to humans when ingested. The Agency continues to work towards completing the human health assessment and making a final determination about the carcinogenicity of chromium-6. When the assessment is completed, EPA will determine whether the drinking water standard for total chromium needs to be revised.

More information regarding EPA's current schedule for the chromium-6 assessment is available at http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/iristrac/index.cfm?fuseaction=viewChemical.showChemical&sw_id=1114.

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What are EPA's drinking water regulations for chromium?
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These non-enforceable health goals, based on possible health risks from exposure over a lifetime are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG).

The MCLG for total chromium is 0.1 mg/L or 100 parts per billion (ppb). EPA has set this level of protection based on the best available science at the time the rule was promulgated. EPA has set an enforceable regulation for total chromium, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 0.1 mg/L or 100 ppb. MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. In this case, the MCL equals the MCLG, because analytical methods or treatment technology do not pose any limitation.

States may set more stringent drinking water MCLGs and MCLs for total chromium than EPA.

Why are chromium-6 and chromium-3 covered in the same standard?
Chromium-6 and chromium-3 are covered under the total chromium drinking water standard because these forms of chromium can convert back and forth in water and in the human body, depending on environmental conditions. Measuring just one form may not capture all of the chromium that is present. In order to ensure that the greatest potential risk is addressed, EPA's regulation assumes that a measurement of total chromium is 100 percent chromium-6, the more toxic form.

How often does the EPA update the total chromium drinking water standard?
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to periodically review the national primary drinking water regulation for each contaminant and revise the regulation, if appropriate. EPA reviewed total chromium as part of the second six-year review that was announced in March 2010 . The Agency noted in March 2010 that it had initiated a reassessment of the health risks associated with chromium exposure and that the Agency did not believe it was appropriate to revise the national primary drinking water regulation while that effort was in process.  In 2008, EPA began a rigorous and comprehensive review of chromium-6 health effects based on new science. When this human health assessment is finalized EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information to determine if the current chromium standard should be revised.

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How does chromium get into my drinking water?
The most common forms of chromium that occur in natural waters in the environment are chromium-3 and chromium-6. Chromium-3 and chromium-6 occur naturally in the environment, and are present in water from the erosion of chromium deposits found in rocks and soils. Chromium-6 is also produced by industrial processes and manufacturing activities including discharges from steel and pulp mills among others. At many locations, chromium compounds have been released to the environment via leakage, poor storage, or improper disposal practices. Chromium compounds are very persistent in water as sediments.
A federal law called the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act requires facilities in certain industries, which manufacture, process, or use significant amounts of toxic chemicals, to report annually on their releases of these chemicals. For more information on the uses and releases of chemicals in your state, contact the community right-to-know hotline at (800) 424-9346.

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How will I know if there is chromium in my drinking water?
Your public water system's annual water quality report will provide information if total chromium is detected in the drinking water it delivers. The water quality report is sent to customers by July 1 of each year and may also be found on your public water system's website. Some water utilities have conducted monitoring specifically for chromium-6. Contact your public water system to find out if this information is available.

Consumers served by private wells can have their water tested by a state certified laboratory. You can find information on how to sample for chromium-6 and where to send samples by contacting your state water laboratory certification officer.

If you are concerned about chromium in a private well, please visit:

What should I do if I am concerned about the presence of chromium-6 in my drinking water while EPA is reviewing the science and the regulation?
If you remain concerned after finding out more about the chromium-6 levels in your drinking water, you may consider taking additional steps.

    Can home treatment devices remove chromium-6?
      Some home treatment devices are certified by organizations to remove chromium-6. Two certification organizations are: NSF International Exit EPA Disclaimer     and the Water Quality Association Exit EPA Disclaimer     . These certification programs are based on current drinking water standards and home treatment devices are only certified to remove chromium-6 to either 50 or 100 parts per billion. Contact the device's manufacturer for specific information about how effective the product is, given your water and treatment goal. Your public water system's water quality report and your water system's staff can help you understand the characteristics of your water.

    If you choose to use a home treatment device, it is very important to follow the manufacturer's operation and maintenance instructions carefully in order to make sure the device works properly.

    Consumers should be aware that the current EPA drinking water standard for chromium requires that public water systems provide drinking water that does not exceed a total chromium concentration of 100 ppb.  

    Can I avoid exposure to chromium-6 if I only drink bottled water? (Is there chromium-6 in bottled water?)
    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establishes standards for bottled water and has adopted EPA's total chromium standard of 100 ppb. See for more information about the FDA's standards for bottled water. Contact bottled water manufacturers for specific information about levels of chromium-6 in their products.

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How do I learn more about my drinking water?
EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to provide safe drinking water. Your water bill or telephone book's government listings are a good starting point for local information.
Check your water system provider's website or contact your water provider. EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual consumer confidence report, sometimes called a water quality report, to their customers by July 1 of each year.

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