What is chromium?

by wfnblog on April 27, 2012


Frequently Asked Water Filter Questions AnsweredNumber 24 on the periodic table, chromium is an odorless and tasteless metallic element. It is found naturally occurring in rocks, soil and volcanic dust, as well as in living plants, animals and humans. The most common forms of chromium that occur in natural sources of drinking water are trivalent chromium (chromium-3) and hexavalent chromium (chromium-6). Chromium compounds are very persistent in water as sediments.

Chromium-3 is an essential human dietary element, consumed in various fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. It is often added to vitamins as a nutritional supplement. Chromium-6 does occur naturally in the environment from the erosion of natural chromium deposits, but it can also be produced by industrial processes. Metallic chromium is used primarily for making steel and other alloys. Chromium compounds (either chromium-3 or chromium-6) are found in chrome plating, dyes and pigments, leather and wood preservatives. Examples of chromium-6 pollution by industry include leakage, poor storage, and inadequate waste disposal practices.

Chromium contamination in drinking waters needs filtering

The health effects of chromium are varied. Chromium-3 has relatively low toxicity, so it would only be a concern in drinking water at very high levels of contamination. Chromium-6 is more toxic, posing greater potential health risks. But these two 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, the Environmental Protection Agency assumes that a measurement of total chromium is 100 percent chromium-6, the more dangerous form.

Long-term exposure to excessive chromium in your water can cause allergic dermatitis (skin irritation), but there are far more troubling health concerns. Hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) is the heavy metal that became infamous due to the publicity of California consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, and the Hollywood movie about her starring Julia Roberts. There is a growing body of research about the cancer risks of ingesting the metal. It has long been known to cause lung cancer in humans when inhaled. National Toxicology Program studies have demonstrated that lab rats given hexavalent chromium orally had significant increases in tumors at sites where tumors aren’t usually seen: the mouth and the intestine. It has been linked in animals to liver and kidney damage, as well as to leukemia, stomach cancer and others.

Chromium is a naturally occurring element that can contaminate drinking water.

In the last couple of years, the Washington Post reported on research by the Environmental Working Group that found hexavalent chromium in the drinking water supplies of 31 major U.S. cities. The EWG states, “At least 74 million people in 42 states drink chromium-polluted water, much of it likely in the cancer-causing hexavalent form.” Clearly, with such a widespread danger in our water sources, it is essential that we find effective ways to filter it out before we take a drink.

The recommended treatment method for reducing chromium levels in drinking water is reverse osmosis.

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