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EPA Ducks Perchlorate Standards

Jul 17, 2003 | Hollister Freelance Water officials and water contamination victims long seeking a federal benchmark for determining how much perchlorate is too much will have to wait even longer.

The Environmental Protection Agency late last week said it still lacks the information necessary to regulate perchlorate levels in drinking water.

According to water experts, the EPA probably will not issue enforceable standards for perchlorate and several other unregulated contaminants until at least 2010. Studies on the effects of perchlorate, which is known to cause thyroid damage, have been ongoing for almost 10 years.

“It’s quite disappointing the feds are not setting a standard so that we can work toward it,” said Mike DiMarco, spokesperson for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “For the community, the question looming over everyone’s head is ‘How much perchlorate is too much?’ and ‘What, if anything, is this doing to my health?’ ”

EPA officials defended the organization’s delay.

“We are doing studies on perchlorate, we care tremendously and we’re moving as fast as we can,” said Ephraim King, the EPA’s 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.”

For now in California, detection at 4 parts per billion triggers warning notices to affected water users. Since perchlorate testing began in January, more than 400 wells between Morgan Hill and Gilroy have tested between 4 and 100 ppb.

The California EPA has set a public health goal between 2 to 6 ppb. However it will be at least until January 2004 before that goal becomes a state regulation according to Department of Health Services Spokesperson Robert Miller.

Olin Corporation is the company responsible for the contaminated groundwater basin in South County. The company used to produce flares, which contain perchlorate, at a now defunct factory at Railroad and Tennant avenues in Morgan Hill.

Olin has been testing wells and providing bottled water to contamination victims along a roughly eight-mile stretch that has now reached Gilroy.

The company recently announced a 42-well monitoring program and said it wants to test another 161 wells that could be contaminated. Most of those wells are in south San Martin and north Gilroy.

Officials from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the state Department of Health Services could not be reached before deadline. However, DiMarco said the testing and monitoring programs by Olin would unlikely be changed by news of the EPA delay.

“We still have the interim standard set by the state,” DiMarco said.

The rush of lawsuits now more than 300 against Olin Corporation will still move forward, attorney Richard Alexander says.

“Our proof in the courtroom will show that medical science confirms 1 to 2 ppb is extremely dangerous for unborn children,” Alexander said. “No matter what the government may or may not do, science is absolutely clear.”

Alexander’s firm, Alexander Hawes & Audet, represents roughly 200 of the lawsuits.

Perchlorate is a toxic part of solid rocket fuel. The local contamination is one of the few around the nation not caused by the defense industry.

San Martin resident Bob Cerruti, whose well has tested as high as 10 ppb for the deadly chemical, believes the defense industry’s connection to perchlorate is a reason the government has not speedily cracked down on it.

“It’s just a thought coming from me, I have no proof of that,” Cerruti said. “But I don’t get the warm and fuzzies that they’re interested in attacking the problem head on.”

Cerruti is attacking perchlorate head on. He is finishing up his own study of how severely perchlorate contaminates produce.

Cerruti is watering a row of tomatoes with his poisoned well water and another row with bottled water. By the end of July, he says he will have enough to harvest and send to a private lab.

“They’re going to test everything for me, the tomatoes, the water, the soil,” Cerruti said

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