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White House Opts Not To Set Perchlorate Standards For Drinking Water

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 2:06 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, Perchlorate, Raytheon, Defense Contractors, Toxic Substances, Drinking Water

No standards will be set federally for perchlorate which effects the thyroid



 IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ F-18 Hornets/ author: U.S. Navy


Do not expect any action on safe-water drinking standards for perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel that’s linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women and young Americans.

Perchlorate has contaminated the groundwater and drinking water in 35 states and has contaminated 153 public water systems.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been prepared to regulate the chemical, but the six-year battle between EPA scientists, environmental and child advocates, facing-off with the White House and Pentagon, appears to be over with the administration concluding that cleanup costs are prohibitive.

Cleanup could cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars.

A near-final report by the EPA (obtained by the Washington Post)  finds that 16.6 million in this country are exposed to perchlorate, some occurring naturally, but some from the improper disposal by rocket test sites, military bases and chemical plants. 

Estimates are that up to 40 million Americans may be exposed at unsafe levels.

Several defense contractors have threatened to sue the Defense Department if they are forced to help pay the cost of cleanup.  

The new EPA cleanup proposal allows maximum contamination at levels 15 times what had been previously suggested by the EPA in 2002, at one part per billion.  

Even with that adjustment, the cleanup proposal was heavily edited by officials of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). According to the Washington Post, they eliminated key passages and asked the EPA to use a computer model to calculate the risk.

The Defense Department is allowed to weigh in on proposed EPA regulations before they become final. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported this spring that the Pentagon had put pressure on the EPA not to regulate perchlorate.

"They have distorted the science to such an extent that they can justify not regulating" the chemical, said Robert Zoeller, a University of Massachusetts professor who specializes in thyroid hormone and brain development and has a copy of the EPA proposal told the Washington Post. "Infants and children will continue to be damaged, and that damage is significant."

The EPA finds that bottle-fed infants would be exposed to 15 parts per billion (ppb) if the formula is mixed with water.  Between 900,000 and 2 million Americans could be exposed to levels higher than 15 ppb, in the EPA’s proposed rule.

A small reduction in thyroid function can translate to a lower IQ in infants and an increase in behavioral and perception problems.  Zoeller says “It’s absolutely irreversible,” noting that small changes in thyroid functioning can impact teens and young people.

A reference to those studies was deleted in the EPA proposal by OMB officials.

EPA official Benjamin Grumbles said “Science, not the politics of fear in an election year will drive our final decision,” though he does admit that perchlorate in drinking water presents some degree of risk.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, has endorsed setting a standard and she lambasted the agency for refusing to establish one.

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences prepared a risk analysis that would produce a protective standard of 1 to 6 ppb. Two panel members had financial ties to defense contractors.  

Perchlorate is particularly widespread in California and the Southwest. It’s been found in the Colorado River water which is a source for 20 million people and also in lettuce fed from the river.

States have enacted their own standards while they wait for federal action. In 2007, California adopted a drinking water standard of 6 parts per billion. Massachusetts has set a drinking water standard of 2 parts per billion.  #

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