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Drinking Water Safety

Is there chromium in my drinking water?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is chromium?

Chromium is an element found in nature.

Chromium is found in 3 forms. Chromium 0 is used to make steel. Chromium III and chromium VI are used to make pigments (colours) for:

  • cement
  • chrome plating (adding a thin layer of chromium to another metal)
  • paper
  • wood preservatives
  • leather tanning
  • paint

Where is chromium found?

Chromium is found in air, water, rocks, soil, animals, gases, and volcanic dust.

Chromium III is found in small amounts in some: ​

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • meats
  • grains
  • yeast

Chromium 0 and VI are most often found in industrial areas because of leakage, poor storage, or improper disposal from steel and pulp mills.

How does chromium get into my drinking water?

Chromium can get into drinking water from:

  • steel and pulp mills
  • natural deposits that erode
  • industrial waste
  • water from cooling systems
  • some plumbing fixtures (tap water)
  • leaking, poor storage, or improper disposal in industrial areas

How does chromium affect my health?

Chromium III helps your body use sugar, protein, and fat. It is not harmful unless levels are very high.

Chromium 0 and VI are more harmful and there are health risks with exposure. The maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) is the highest amount of a metal in drinking water that is safe for a person to drink. People who drink water with chromium over the MAC for many years can have health problems like:

  • allergic dermatitis (skin rash or inflammation)
  • liver damage
  • kidney problems
  • nerve tissue damage

Long-term exposure to chromium can also cause death.

Chromium VI can cause lung and stomach cancer.

How do I know if there is chromium in my drinking water?

Your water can be tested to see how much chromium is in it. Learn more about testing your drinking water in Alberta.

When regular test​ing shows total chromium levels above the MAC, your water supplier must reduce the amount of chromium to a safe level.

If you have a private water source, test your water regularly to make sure it is safe. Make sure to have your water sample tested by an accredited lab.

What is the standard for chromium in drinking water?

According to Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, the MAC for chromium in drinking water is 0.05 mg/L (milligrams per litre).

What should I do if there are high levels of chromium in my drinking water?

If there is a problem with chromium in any public water supply, customers must be told right away. Another water source must also be supplied to prevent health effects.

If you are concerned about chromium in your drinking water:

  • Use water from another safe source to drink, cook, and brush your teeth. Safe water sources include municipal (city or town) water systems or bottled water.
  • Talk to a professional water specialist to install a certified water treatment unit to remove chromium.
    You can remove chromium from drinking water with:
    • coagulation/filtration (coagulation clumps particles together, making them easier to filter)
    • ion exchange (a system that uses the electrical charges of different particles to clean water)
    • reverse osmosis (forcing water through a membrane that filters out metals like chromium)
    • lime softening (adding a substance to soften water and increase its pH level)
​After you have installed your system, have the treated water tested for chromium to make sure your system is working properly. Monitor and maintain your water treatment equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions.​

How else might I be exposed to chromium?

You can also be exposed to chromium in:

  • certain foods
  • air
  • hazardous waste sites

Where can I learn more?

If you have any questions about chromium in drinking water, contact Alberta Health Services Envi​ronmental Public Health​.

Current as of: April 26, 2022

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services