High concentrations of the toxic metal hexavalent chromium have been detected in Chicago’s drinking water. A first round of testing found the metal —  which gained notoriety as the water contaminant in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich” — at a level 11 times higher than a precedent-setting public health goal that California adopted last month.

But as the Chicago Tribune reports, it might take years before authorities step up efforts to curb contamination from hexavalent chromium or from any of the other dozens of unregulated chemicals turning up in water supplies nationwide. Industry groups and municipal water utilities are lobbying against the Obama administration’s move toward setting national limits on currently unregulated substances.

Possible health threats from many industrial chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs and herbicides continue to be studied, but there already is strong evidence that years of exposure to chromium-contaminated water can cause stomach cancer.

Test results obtained by the Tribune show that treated Lake Michigan water pumped to 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs contains up to .23 parts per billion of hexavalent chromium, well above an amount that researchers say could increase the long-term risk of cancer.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, California took the lead in limiting the substance last month by setting the state’s goal for the maximum concentration of hexavalent chromium at 0.02 parts per billion. That level is considered a negligible risk by most scientists and physicians. At high levels, the compound is linked to reproductive problems, childhood development delays and liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency late last year asked U.S. cities to track the industrial contaminant, also known as chromium 6, while the Obama administration completes a scientific review with the aim of establishing a national standard. Chicago has been the first city to make its results public.

Chicago officials, while looking for ways to reduce chromium 6 levels, insist that local tap water is safe and suggest that if a national limit is adopted, it likely will be less stringent than California’s goal. But the findings raise new concerns about the toxic metal, which can pass unfiltered through conventional water treatment.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, sharply criticized the EPA recently for doing too little to update its list of drinking water contaminants that should be regulated.

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