State health department says testing shows water safe

Gary Gill
Gary Gill

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department and the Board of Water Supply are responding to a recent report that Honolulu has an unusually high level of a chemical called chromium-6 in its tap water.

Chromium-6 is commonly called the "Erin Brockovich chemical" - made famous by the Julie Roberts film. Officials have been doing island-wide testing of wells to see if there are dangerous levels of the chemical.

Health officials and Board of Water Supply workers fanned out across Oahu for weeks after a report surfaced over the safety of the island's tap water. The non-profit watchdog, Environmental Working Group, found higher than normal levels of the cancer-causing chemical. Local officials say, that's not the case.

Gary Gill, Hawaii's Director for Environmental Health says, "We're way below total chromium and way below chrominum-6 levels."

It's all about numbers. The EWG uses California's target goal of getting the chemical under .06 parts per billion. In one sample taken, EWG found Honolulu has two ppb of chromium-6. In response, the Board of Water Supply checked 11 Oahu sites and found chromium-6 levels ranged from trace amounts to 4.8 ppb. The EPA level of safety is 100 parts per billion.

"The message is: 100, 4.8, .402, 0 - anything below 100 has been determined safe. We're way below that," says Dr. Neal Palafox, the state's interim health director.

Hollywood put a spotlight on chromium-6 with the Erin Brockovich movie - where levels reached as high as 3,000 ppb. Health officials in Hawaii say there's no comparison. They say the chemical is mostly found near industrial businesses but not here.

"The source of it, most likely, is from our volcanic soils," says Gill. "It's naturally occurring elements in our drinking water."

Discussing Hawaii's chromium-6 levels, the Environmental Working Group said last month, "Compared to what is generally considered to be kind of a safe level, it is quite a bit higher".  It has yet to respond to these latest comments. The Health Department and the Board of Water Supply will continue to monitor Oahu's wells and plan to expand their testing to the neighbor islands.

The bottom line, say health officials: your drinking water is safe.

If you'd like to see details of the water test results, check out these websites:

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