Honolulu’s tap water is safe to drink and does not pose a cancer risk — despite an alarming report last month that showed otherwise, state health experts said.
In an informational briefing before legislators Wednesday, Hawaii Department of Health officials testified that while trace amounts of hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen, might have been found in some Honolulu tap water, it wasn’t present at levels that pose significant health risks.
Last month, a report by the Environmental Working Group found Honolulu’s water ranked second among 31 cities for hexavalent chromium.
The report relied on a single water sample taken from a local residence and found the water contained two parts per billion of hexavalent chromium. But state water officials have said that testing at a single location, and taking into account that residential pipes may have adversely affected conditions, is irresponsible.
Hexavalent chromium was made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.” The movie chronicled the true story of Hinkley, Calif. residents who suffered from cancers and other diseases after drinking contaminated water.
On Wednesday, Department of Health Director Neal Palafox and Deputy Director Gary Gill appeared before the state Legislature’s Committee on Health to address the report. Their main message: residents need not worry.
“In order to get a response, a cancer response from a laboratory animal (from hexavalent chromium), usually mice or rats, you’re talking about concentrations that are thousands of times higher than we’re finding naturally in our water,” Gill said.
Chromium is released to the environment mostly from man-made sources, though researchers have found hexavalent chromium naturally occurs in ground water and surface waters in California, Pakistan, Italy, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. In 1992, the EPA set a regulation for chromium — which includes hexavalent chromium — at 0.1 mg/L, or 100 parts per billion. There is no EPA standard specifically for hexavalent chromium in drinking water.
Gill said that Hinkley, Calif.-residents drank water contaminated with hexavalent chromium levels of 1,000 parts per billion.
“That’s thousands of times higher than what we’re finding here,” Gill said.
George Digmon, a concerned citizen that showed up to the committee meeting, said he felt reassured by the health officials’ testimony.
“I’m feeling confident that the water is safe,” Digmon said. “I was concerned about my kids but I’m feeling good now.”
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