....the story is familiar to anyone who saw the hit film Erin Brockovich. The corporate polluter was taken to court. The victims got millions of dollars. Problem solved.
But in reality, the “chromate problem” has not gone away. Today, tens of millions of Americans drink chromium-tainted tap water. Yet the controversy over whether people like Speth are dying of cancer from it is still being hotly debated.
Some of the most powerful voices in the debate are companies with a stake in the outcome. They’ve hired scientists to convince regulators that the chemical compound is safe. The lawsuit that Brockovich championed was merely the beginning of an intriguing tale about corporate manipulation of science.
In 2008, the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, published groundbreaking research detailing how mice and rats that drank heavy doses of a toxic form of chromium called chromium (VI) developed cancerous tumors. The findings prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to act.
EPA scientists evaluated hundreds of studies and concluded that chromium (VI) likely causes cancer in people who drink it. The agency in 2011 was on the verge of making its scientists’ findings official — a first step toward forming more stringent clean-water rules. But last year it bowed to pressure and announced it was going to wait for new studies being paid for by the chemical industry.
To lead those studies, the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main trade group and lobbyist, hired ToxStrategies Inc., a Texas-based firm with scientists experienced in poking holes in research that links chromium to cancer. The company describes its business this way on its website: “We often interact and collaborate with regulatory, academic and industrial professionals to ensure that the most appropriate science is incorporated into each assessment.”