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EPA Ignores Rocket Fuel Toxin in Nation’s Water

Sep 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The chemical, perchlorate, was dumped in the ground by military and missile-makers years ago and it has since spread from bases and factories, tainting wells and rivers across the country.  Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is saying that it is not necessary to remove perchlorate from the nation’s water.  Perchlorate is an ingredient in rocket fuel.

Perchlorates are salts originating from perchloric acid that occur naturally and through manufacturing.  The chemicals are an oxidizer in rocket fuel and explosives, and can be found in airbags and fireworks.  Perchlorates are widely used in the pyrotechnics industry; in solid rocket fuel; and in oxygen candles aboard spacecraft, submarines, and other situations in which additional oxygen supplies are needed.

The EPA’s negligence has produced a variety of confirmed dangers.  For instance, perchlorates harm human thyroid glands by interfering with the iodide uptake into the thyroid gland.  The thyroid helps regulate the body’s metabolism by releasing hormones in adults and ensures proper development in children.  Perchlorates have also been found to interfere with mental and physical development in fetuses and infants and recent research reveals an inhibition of iodide uptake in the thyroids of women at much lower levels, attainable from normally contaminated water and milk.

Despite confirmation about perchlorate toxicity to humans and the environment, the EPA says setting limits on perchlorate won't bring about a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction," thus there is no need for action.  Many feel that while years of inaction by federal policymakers may be over, the problem ended with the wrong result.  Apparently, the Pentagon was concerned about the costs involved with cleanup, which is estimated to run in the billions of dollars.  Also, private concerns such as Lockheed Martin and Aerojet claim the risks presented by perchlorates are overrated and urged the White House to stop the EPA’s activities.

Meanwhile, Senator Barbara Boxer—California-Democrat—head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has drafted and is completing an opposition to the EPA decision.  It is also hoped that the incoming president may see the perchlorate contamination as a problem in need of a solution.

Perchlorate contamination exists in some 35 states, where it has tainted 153 public water systems and, in 2004, perchlorate was also found in cow's milk in those areas with an average level of 1.3 parts per billion (ppb or µg/L).  It is believed that the perchlorates entered the cows’ systems through feeding on crops that had exposure to water containing the toxin.  According to the Impact Groundwater Study Program perchlorates were detected in levels as high as five µg/L in Massachusetts, which is well over that state’s regulation of two µg/L.

The widespread contamination, coupled with the government’s inaction and lack of concern, has prompted California—which enacted a mandate that water agencies shut down wells found to be tainted with high levels of perchlorates—to pass its own standards and has led to much criticism by advocates who feel the government has put public safety behind financial concerns and cover-ups.

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