Natural Foods Merchandiser

Perchlorate fuels concerns over drinking water

by Shara Rutberg

Forget BPA. There might be rocket fuel in your water.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday afternoon that it has no plans to remove perchlorate, a chemical in rocket fuel that has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns and young children and interferes with normal brain development in babies, from drinking water. The chemical has been leaking from military bases and defense and aerospace contractors' plants for decades and has been found in the drinking water, groundwater or soil in at least 43 states, according to the Washington, D.C.–based non-profit research organization the Environmental Working Group.

Congressional Democrats and environmentalists blasted the administration's decision. "The health and well-being of millions of breast-fed babies are being ignored by EPA so the defense industry and their agents in the Pentagon can avoid cleaning up the mess they've made," said Environmental Working Group Senior Scientist Anila Jacob, M.D.

In January 2008, an EWG analysis of data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that 75 percent of nearly 300 commonly consumed foods and beverages were contaminated with perchlorate. The study found that the average two-year-old would be exposed to more than half of what the EPA then considered a safe dose of perchlorate from food; the toddler could reach or exceed the daily limit by consuming more of the chemical in drinking water.

However, EPA said Friday that it had determined that in more than 99 percent of public drinking water systems, perchlorate was not at levels of public health concern. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, "The agency determined there is not a 'meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction' through a national drinking water regulation." In the document released Friday, the safe maximum amount of perchlorate suggested by EPA is 15 times higher than the amount the agency suggested in 2002.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that White House officials had extensively edited the EPA's perchlorate rule-making documentation to remove scientific data highlighting some of the risks associated with perchlorate. The Defense Department and Pentagon contractors who face legal liability stemming from rocket fuel contamination have lobbied for six years to avoid a federal drinking-water standard for perchlorate.

EPA will make a final determination for perchlorate after considering information provided in the 30-day public comment period. "The Environmental Working Group will continue to push EPA to implement stringent comprehensive safety standards for perchlorate," said Alex Formuzis, director of public affairs. "We believe the government and the defense industry should put in a place a process to clean this up, so future generations of babies are not affected by this pollution that could damage their mental and physical development."

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