The Norman Transcript

February 4, 2011

Norman’s chromium-6 test results are back

By Andrew Knittle
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Water samples recently collected by the city of Norman found levels of chromium-6 ranging from 10 to 90 parts per billion, Utilities Director Ken Komiske said Thursday.

Komiske said the findings were no surprise given Norman’s location and well-documented history of having heavy metals in its drinking water.

“Nothing has really changed,” he said. “We tested every well we have, we tested lake water, we tested the water after it was treated ... we covered it all.”

Norman water officials began collecting the samples after the Environmental Protection Agency suggested independent testing by utilities may be a good idea to screen for chromium-6.

Currently, the limit set by the EPA for total chromium in drinking water is 100 parts per billion.

Four other cities that were part of a drinking water contaminant study released in December 2010 also have confirmed the chromium-6 levels reported by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

According to the EWG, water utilities in Wisconsin, Hawaii and Oregon confirmed the results revealed in the group’s study, which was released Dec. 20, 2010. None of the four cities had chromium-6 readings as high as Norman’s.

In the study, Norman’s drinking water tested at 12.9 parts per billion — the highest of the 35 cities tested.

Komiske said that chromium-6 is an extremely common substance and that it’s found throughout the world.

He said the levels in Norman can be attributed to the Garber-Wellington aquifer (known to contain arsenic, chromium-6 and other substances) and are not the result of any other source such as industrial pollution.

“It is naturally occurring here ... it’s going to be in the soil, it’s going to be in your plants and it’s going to be in your water,” Komiske said. “But is it safe to drink? Absolutely.”

Norman’s water safe, EPA administrator says

During a U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said Norman residents shouldn’t “be afraid of drinking the water,” according to media reports.

Jackson also said the EPA will continue to offer guidance to water utilities like Norman’s, but the federal agency has said they won’t help financially if a regulation change is made.

City Manager Steve Lewis was supposed to testify at the hearing, but the snowstorm prevented him from making the trip to Washington, D.C. He did, however, send a statement to the committee for the record.

In the statement, Lewis said he felt like the EWG’s report “was designed to alarm the American people as to the safety of their drinking water and caused them to question the ability of utilities like Norman to protect the public health of our customers,” when that simply isn’t the case.

He said in the digital age, where information (true or false) spreads faster than ever before, more must be done to get a message through to the public.

“To accomplish the complete mission of protection of the public health, our industry must be able to communicate our message more effectively than those who would have our customers think otherwise,” Lewis said in the statement. “America’s drinking water is safe, reliable and economical. And we can all be proud of that fact.”

Andrew Knittle 366-3540 aknittle@normantranscript.com