If chromium-6 rings a bell for some odd reason, that reason is likely Erin Brockovich, who famously helped secure a massive settlement for the Hinkley, Calif., residents who had been exposed to dangerous levels of the heavy metal. And there's a chance you have been exposed, too, according to a report released Tuesday. The Environmental Working Group analyzed EPA-ordered samples taken by local water utilities from 2013 to 2015 and found that Americans—an estimated 218 million of them—in every single state are being exposed to what the study's authors say are unsafe levels of the probable carcinogen. The unsafe level isn't one that's federally defined, reports the Guardian. California scientists want to see 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) become the benchmark, but the limit the state ultimately established (it's the only state to have such a limit, reports CNN) is 10 ppb.
For comparison, New Jersey and North Carolina scientists think 0.06 ppb is a safe upper limit. The analysis showed that 75% of the 60,000 water samples had a chromium-6 level of at least 0.03 ppb; it was above 10 ppb in water used by an estimated 7 million Americans. The news is gloomiest for Phoenix, Ariz., where all but one of the 80 water samples taken had an average concentration of 7.853 ppb. Co-author Dr. David Andrews says exposing the "broken" nature of our regulatory system was a motivating factor in conducting the analysis. Of the 81 unregulated contaminants the EPA has tested for since 1996, just one, the rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate, has been designated for regulation, though that effort is two years behind schedule. Brockovich's advice: "Superman’s not coming. Band together with your community and fight at the local level." (Read more Erin Brockovich stories.)