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Action Needed Now On Perchlorate

Jul 29, 2003 | Free Lance News

That's a lot of bottled water.

That's the first thing that leapt to mind upon hearing that the federal Environmental Protection Agency won't set a federal standard for perchlorate levels until at least 2010.

The EPA says it still doesn't have enough information to establish enforceable levels of perchlorate, a chemical used in the manufacture of rocket fuel, air bags, fireworks and road flares. In other words, despite at least 10 years of EPA study, despite the EPA’s preliminary plan to set the safe perchlorate level at 1 part per billion, despite knowledge that at some levels, exposure to the chemical is unsafe, the federal agency charged with protecting our environment now says: We just don’t know what a safe level is yet.

We are doing studies on perchlorate, we care tremendously and we're moving as fast as we can, said Ephraim King, the EPAs director of water standards and risk management division. We can't start the formal rule-making process until all the data is on the table.

So while the EPA moves at its decades-long snail's pace to set standards for a problem that's been around for years, South Valley is hardly the first or only place in the United States to suffer from perchlorate pollution, the stuff is poisoning groundwater across the nation we're left hanging.

The delay is unacceptable. There's nothing right, fair or reasonable about asking the millions of people affected by perchlorate to wait seven long years before answering their fair and reasonable questions:

How much perchlorate is safe? At what level does it begin to effect my health? Should standards be different for sensitive populations such as pregnant women, infants, the elderly and the chronically ill? Can I give perchlorate-tainted water to my animals? Can I water my garden with it? And that’s just off the top of our heads.

The Bush Administration, already on shaky ground for its environmental policies, has earned an “F†for responsiveness to this issue. On the other hand, defense industry contractors might be giving them an “A" there’s lots of talk that the Bush Administration and the EPA caved to pressure from defense industry lobbyists to delay perchlorate standards.

The fact that the EPA seemed poised to set a 1 part per billion standard before abruptly changing course adds fuel to that speculation.

There is one ray of hope. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced a bill into the U.S. Senate that would require the EPA to establish a maximum level of perchlorate in water by July 1, 2004.

The bill, S820, was introduced in early April, yet remains in the Environmental and Public Works Committee, where it awaits a hearing to determine if it will be sent to the full Senate.

Senate committees’ hearing schedules are determined by the committee chair, in this case, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. We urge South Valley residents to contact their senators and President George W. Bush to support Boxer’s perchlorate legislation. Readers can also contact Sen. Inhofe to urge him to give Boxer’s bill a hearing in his committee.

We don’t know what a safe level of perchlorate contamination is, but we do know that we can’t wait until 2010 to find out.

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