RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Environmental activist Erin Brockovich is using North Carolina as an example to push for new drinking water safety laws.
On Tuesday, Brockovich and the Environmental Working Group sent a letter to the head of the EPA.
They’re asking the government to set a federal drinking water standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), for hexavalent chromium, a naturally occurring contaminant known to cause cancer.
The lack of a nationwide standard for hexavalent chromium has created confusion for well owners in North Carolina living next to Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds.
Water tests showed some wells had elevated levels of hexavalent chromium. While the contaminant can be found in coal ash, Duke Energy says there is no scientific evidence to prove their ash is the source.
“We write with deep concern about this continued delay. It is clear that the delay is sowing confusion among state and local regulators, utilities and the public about how much hexavalent chromium is safe in drinking water,” the letter reads.
Last year, the state sent letters to those residents warning them not to drink their water. Those warnings were later retracted. The issue has sparked a debate within DHHS and DEQ over the safety of the water.
A state toxicologist, Kenneth Rudo, and the state Epidemiologist, Megan Davies, have accused DHHS of misleading the public. Last week, Davies even resigned over the issue, which Brockovich references in the letter.
“North Carolina’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Megan Davies, publicly resigned after seven years, due to disputes over how to limit citizens’ exposure to hexavalent chromium in wells near Duke Energy’s coal ash pits,” the letter states.
Governor McCrory and the state Health Director have tried to discredit Rudo.
“For Chromium 6, Rudo’s analysis is out of step with the federal government and 49 other states,” said state Health Director Randall Williams in a letter co-written by DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder.
There are federal and state standards for the amount of total chromium that has been deemed unsafe, but not specifically for hexavalent chromium.
“This confusion is resulting many Americans’ exposure to unregulated levels of hexavalent chromium, which federal, state and independent scientists agree pose health hazards,” the letter reads.
Officials at DEQ released an email from another state toxicologist, Jessica Godreau, who was opposed to sending “Do Not Drink” letters.
“I personally think it is ill-advised to direct consumers – ANY consumers – to stop drinking their water due to a chemical detection, when that contamination is regulated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act which protects well over 300 people nationally, and is well below the regulatory limit for that contaminant,’ the email states.
California is the only state that has set its own standard for hexavalent chromium.
“If one followed the threshold [Rudo] proposes, every state would have to issue “do not drink” orders to tens of millions of people. Many cities and states recognize that Chromium 6 represents some risk at levels below the federal drinking water standard, but none issue “do not drink” orders under those circumstances,” Williams said.
Governor McCrory called the issue a “disagreement among scientists” and says DHHS is adequately protecting public health.
“It has been 25 years since EPA set a total chromium MCL and eight years since EPA began reviewing the health effects of hexavalent chromium,” the Brokovich letter said. “A health protective MCL specific to hexavalent chromium is overdue and urgently needed. We respectfully request that you use your authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to set this standard as soon as possible.”
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