A carcinogenic chemical discovered in the water supply of Hinkley, California almost thirty years ago is now turning up in increased concentrations elsewhere in the United States. The chemical at issue is known as chromium-6 – the same chemical compound that legal clerk Erin Brockovich famously discovered in her hometown’s water supply – and it is present at potentially unsafe levels in the drinking water of approximately 218 million people. The report was completed by the Environmental Working Group and was released last week and found that Los Angeles’s water supply (along with Phoenix, Arizona, St. Louis, Missouri, and Houston, Texas) had some of the highest levels of chromium-6 in the nation.
What is Chromium-6 and What are its Risks?
Chromium-6 is a heavy metal that is used in the steel-making process as well as energy production. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as an “emerging contaminant.” This requires utility companies to monitor for the presence of chromium-6 but the utility company is not required to limit the metal’s presence to a specific amount. This despite the conclusion of the National Toxicology Program that chromium-6 was a “known human carcinogen” and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s conclusion that chromium-6 to be associated with cancers of the respiratory system and/or gastrointestinal system.
Who is Responsible for Toxic Torts?
Generally speaking, utility companies and other businesses (both public and private) cannot carelessly allow contaminants to seep into water supplies, food chains, or the ground and thereby poison individuals (and they certainly may not knowingly do so, either). Companies or entities who violate this basic duty of care can find themselves civilly responsible for the harm caused by their actions and may be required to pay compensation to the injured victims – compensation that can sometimes reach into the millions of dollars.
However, recovering compensation from the utility company or other responsible corporation or entity is not always a sure thing. Two of the chief challenges to injury plaintiffs in toxic tort cases are proving that they have, in fact, suffered injuries, and that these injuries are the result of the substance in question. In some cases, it can take years – even decades – for individuals exposed to a particular substance to begin manifesting symptoms (and even longer to connect the symptoms to a disease or disorder caused by the chemical or substance).
Taking the Long View in Toxic Tort Cases
For victims harmed by chromium-6 and other similar substances, the road to recovery through a toxic tort lawsuit can seem long and difficult. Oftentimes, toxic tort injury victims and their attorneys will employ various specialists and investigate their case for several years before actually filing suit against the responsible entity. As is true in other personal injury cases, however, patience and thoroughness during the investigative portion of a case can often result in a case resolving more quickly – and more successfully – once it has been filed.
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(image courtesy of Roger McLassus)