On July 18, 2013, Judge Evelio Grillo of the Alameda County Superior Court in NRDC v. California Department of Public Health, Cal. Super. Ct., No. RG12643520, directed the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to issue a draft Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) in drinking water for Chromium-6 (Cr-6) before September 1, 2013[1].  In 2001, the California State Legislature directed CDPH to issue a Cr-6 MCL by January 1, 2004, but it has not been issued to date.[2]  CDPH had previously indicated it expected to issue the draft MCL for public comment in July 2013,[3]  but the Alameda County Superior Court’s recent decision makes the likelihood of release significantly more certain.[4]

The anticipated MCL follows the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s establishment of the nation’s first Cr-6 Public Health Goal (PHG) in 2011 at a level of .02 parts per billion (ppb), a standard 2500 times lower than the current state MCL of 50 ppb for total chromium.[5]

CDPH will publish the draft MCL for public comment in the California Regulatory Notice Register and subsequently accept comments from interested parties for at least 45 days.[6]  CDPH has also stated its intention to hold public hearings to elicit further comments.[7]  After the comment period closes, CDPH may make changes to the draft MCL based on received comments, and then publish a final MCL.[8]  CDPH has estimated the process will take up to two years, and that a final MCL for Cr-6 will become enforceable sometime between July 2014 and July 2015.[9]  However, the Alameda County Superior Court has ordered that, after submitting the draft MCL to the Office of Administrative Law in August 2013 and after the 45 day comment period, CDPH must hold its planned public hearings as soon as reasonably possible and no later than October 28, 2013.[10]  During the week of October 28, 2013, the Alameda County Superior Court will hold an evidentiary hearing on the quantity and nature of the public comments and how long CDPH will need to address them.[11]  Based on that hearing, the court is expected to specify a date by which CDPH must issue the final Cr-6 MCL.[12]

Cr-6 remains an important issue in California, and we expect the draft MCL will generate significant interest throughout the state.  Further, depending on where the final MCL is set, there could be significant financial impacts on all Californians.  The technology to reduce Cr-6 in drinking water sources currently exists but treatment systems are expensive and not widely available.[13]  Depending on where the final MCL is set, water municipalities may be required to outfit their facilities with new and costly filtration systems, which would raise the overall cost of water prices for domestic and corporate consumers.[14]