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Chromium 6 cleaning plans run aground

Neither of the two methods tested can meet the state's public health goal.

March 09, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

This article has been amended, see note below for details.

After spending more than 10 years and roughly $9 million, engineers testing two high-tech methods for removing chromium 6 from groundwater say neither method can reliably bring levels of the cancer-causing contaminant down to the point where it would hit a state public health goal.

In 2011, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment set a goal of drastically reducing the amount of chromium 6 — the contaminant brought to notoriety by the 2000 film “Erin Brokovich” — in the water supply.

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Research on developing new, cost-effective methods for ridding groundwater of chromium 6 — which has been ongoing in Glendale for more than a decade — will play a key role in determining how far agencies will be forced to go in removing the contaminant from water supplies.

Glendale Water & Power, which has been grappling with vast swaths of underground aquifers tainted with chromium 6 by a long-gone aerospace manufacturing industry, has been the lead agency, using state grants and money from polluters to fund the research.

The two methods have proven effective in stripping tainted water of the chromium, but Nicole Blute, senior associate at Hazen & Sawyer, an environmental engineering firm hired by the city to conduct the research, said “this research really demonstrates that we could not get to the public health goal.”

And even though the test results show utilities can get close to the goal, it could cost tens of millions of dollars to do so over the span of 20 years, according to a final report researchers submitted to the state last week.

The cost and feasibility report will play an important role as state officials set a new legal limit for chromium 6.

By law, state officials must get the limit — planned to be released by July 2015 — as close as economically feasible to the public health goal of .02 parts per billion. Currently, the maximum contaminant level for total chromium in California is 50 parts per billion.

The state Department of Public Health is in the process of reviewing Glendale's report and plans to respond with comments, said agency spokeswoman Anita Gore.

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