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There are things that belong in your water — ice cubes, bubbles, maybe the occasional slice of lemon — and things that don’t. Chromium falls distinctly into the latter category.
If you’re not as familiar with this mineral as you are with others like sodium and calcium, you’re not alone — it’s odorless and tasteless, which means it’s not easily noticeable. Although chromium is often found as chromite ore in places like Turkey and Madagascar, it can also reside in soil, certain foods and, sometimes, your water supply.
Here’s everything you need to know about chromium water contamination and testing.
What does it mean if your water has chromium contamination?* Let’s find out.
Types of Chromium
There are two types of chromium: chromium-3 (known as trivalent) and chromium-6 (known as hexavalent). Chromium-3, found in food and supplements, is a small but necessary part of your diet and is not toxic. Chromium-6, however, is typically found with industrial pollution; it is toxic and carcinogenic when inhaled.
It’s important to note that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum contaminant level is 0.1 milligrams per liter of total chromium. That’s because one chromium type can transform into the other in your body or water supply.
How Does Chromium Get Into Water?
Although chromium is present in nature, it’s often man-made products that cause chromium contamination. These sources can include:
Does Chromium Poisoning Exist?
The human body needs chromium — anywhere from 20 to 45 micrograms per day depending on sex, age and other health factors. Because there hasn’t been an observed toxic level of this mineral from everyday sources, no Upper Intake Level, or maximum recommended amount of chromium in the daily diet, has been established.
However, long-term exposure to hexavalent chromium has been associated with potential skin reactions, while excessive chromium intake (usually in the form of supplements) can harm the kidneys, liver and gastrointestinal system. Additionally, inhalation of hexavalent chromium has been shown to cause certain cancers, while oral ingestion has caused cancer in lab animals. That means it’s best to keep this mineral out of your drinking water.
Does All Tap Water Have Chromium in It?
Like many substances, the presence or lack of chromium in tap water depends on a variety of factors. Precipitation rates, local geology, nearby industrial operations and even your home’s plumbing play a role in determining whether chromium has a chance to get into your water supply.
Cities With Notorious Chromium Water Problems
Chromium contamination was first popularized by the biographical film “Erin Brockovich,” in which a legal clerk from Hinkley, California, successfully sues a gas and electric company for contaminating drinking water with hexavalent chromium. Since then, reports by the Environmental Working Group found that over 232 million Americans in all 50 U.S. states had been exposed to drinking water contaminated with chromium. Cities with particularly high contamination levels included:
In similar studies across Canadian provinces and territories, chromium levels were mostly below detection level.
Now that you know what it means to have chromium in your water, let’s find out how to tell if this mineral ends up in your drinking glass.
What Are the Signs of Chromium in Water?
Chromium in water is difficult to detect. Because it’s tasteless and odorless, you may not even realize you have a chromium problem.
What Are the Side Effects of Chromium in Water?
Chromium only has health impacts after long-term exposure or exceedingly high doses, so you’re not likely to notice significant side effects. In some cases, you may notice skin irritation after bathing or cleaning with water that contains chromium.
Furthermore, chromium — unlike copper or iron — won’t leave stains on your sinks, fixtures or water-using appliances. That means the best way to find out if you have chromium in your water supply is to conduct a water test.
Water testing is your way of taking action against all the substances that could be in your drinking water. Here’s what to know:
What Are Chromium Water Tests?
Although some DIY water tests may claim to check for the presence of minerals including chromium, this isn’t always your best option. That’s because DIY water tests can be inaccurate, or their results may be difficult to read — which, in turn, could lead to incorrect assumptions about your water’s safety. That’s why it’s better to leave water testing to the experts.
How To Test for Chromium in Your Water
During a professional water test, an expert will test your water for a variety of substances, including chlorine and total dissolved solids, or TDS. When you have concerns about more complex elements like copper, bacteria and chromium, your water sample can be sent to a laboratory, like Culligan’s IL EPA-certified lab, for further analysis.
Are There Acceptable Levels of Chromium in Drinking Water?
Guidelines like the EPA’s maximum contaminant levels are enforceable (not to be confused with maximum contaminant level goals, which aren’t enforceable). This means public water systems need to take action if those levels are exceeded. Therefore, standards like these suggest the “acceptable level” of chromium in drinking water is anything under 0.1 milligrams per liter.
However, keep in mind that such guidelines don’t protect your water supply in all cases. Here are two big examples:
If a water test tells you that chromium has found its way into your water supply, here’s what to do next:
How to Remove Chromium From Water
Boiling water won’t remove chromium, and neither will running your water to flush the pipes. There’s only one way to reduce the presence of this mineral in your water supply: filtration.
Chromium Water Filters
A high-quality water filter is the best way to address chromium in your water. Look for a water filtration system that is specifically certified to reduce chromium in your water, like Culligan’s Aquasential® Smart Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Filtration System. These types of filters focus specifically on improving your drinking water and are often installed under your kitchen sink.
Chromium may not have the same reputation as other potential contaminants like lead, but it can still cause its fair share of problems. If you want to be sure your water is safe, or if you spot any aesthetic issues like unusual odors or discoloration (which may be a sign that chromium isn’t the only substance in your water supply), it’s time for a water test.
*Contaminants may not be present in your water.