SAN FRANCISCO -- California public health officials Thursday submitted a safe drinking water standard for the cancer-causing chemical highlighted in the film "Erin Brockovich."

The proposed standard submitted by California Department of Public Health comes weeks after an Alameda County judge ordered officials to adopt the standard for the chemical hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6.

State water quality tests conducted between 2000 and 2011 showed that about a third of 7,000 drinking water sources tested had hexavalent chromium levels at or above a preliminary benchmark set by the California EPA.

State and federal standards currently limit chromium, which includes chromium-6 and chromium-3, which is harmless. California's new standard would limit chromium-6.

The chemical is a form of industrial pollution; it is used in the production of stainless steel, leather tanning and as an anti-corrosive.

The harms of hexavalent chromium were exposed by the film "Erin Brockovich," starring Julia Roberts, which detailed the case of Pacific Gas & Electric. The utility was accused of leaking the contaminant into the groundwater of Hinckley, a small desert town, causing health problems.

The Legislature passed a law in 2001 that directed public health agencies to set an enforceable drinking water standard for the chemical by 2004. That was delayed after a scientific dispute over whether it was carcinogenic when ingested in water, as opposed to inhaled.


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In 2007, federal scientists at the National Toxicology Program confirmed that chromium-6 is also carcinogenic when ingested.

The California EPA next set a preliminary benchmark in creating a drinking water standard. But in 2010, the agency recommended even stricter limits after research showed that fetuses, infants and children were more susceptible than adults to the effects of the chemical.