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Perchlorate Found In Local Water Supplies

Oct 29, 2003 | Two departments at Texas Tech have found perchlorate in the South Plains.

The Institute for Environmental and Human Health conducted studies that found the chemical in milk from supermarkets in Lubbock, while the Water Resources Center with the civil engineering department found perchlorate in water wells throughout the region.

Andrew Jackson, an assistant professor of civil engineering, said perchlorate is a chemical that is used as an ox din in solid rockets. Within the rocket, the chemical takes the place of oxygen. Perchlorate also can be found in flares, matches and some explosives.

Recently, the concern about perchlorate in drinking water has become a major issue. According to one graduate student, this is because perchlorate can reduce thyroid hormone production and impair development of the gland.

Andrea Kirk, a graduate research assistant for the TIEHH, began her findings while working on her dissertation, she said. Since fall 2001, Kirk has found the chemical in seven supermarket milk samples bought randomly in Lubbock, according to her dissertation.

Ernest Smith, an associate professor for the Department of Environmental Toxicology and TIEHH, said the study is not definitive.

"The information is very limited because of the number of samples we are using," Smith said.

Although TIEHH has been able to detect smaller quantities of perchlorate, the quantity has not dropped below the limit of detection level, Kirk said.

To answer more questions, TIEHH has been working with the department of chemistry and biochemistry to validate the method and see if it is reproducible through the chemistry department, he said. However, the work put forth by Kirk and the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology Research Laboratory has broken new ground in the study.

"This is the first to have this as a published, validated method for finding perchlorate," Smith said.

Little is known about the effects of perchlorate in humans. Although there is not much definitive data, TIEHH is looking into the effects of perchlorate at the molecular level, Smith said.

The research could explain more of how perchlorate affects offspring. Smith said one example could be an expecting mother who is exposed to large amounts of perchlorate. The unborn child's metabolism and central nervous system could be affected by the exposure.

The Environmental Protection Agency had set a draft for dosage in regard to the amount of perchlorate in the human body. However, the draft has been challenged by the U.S. Department of Defense. Jackson said the draft would be sent to the National Academy of Science to be rechecked.

Currently, the chemical has been found in about 30 states. The Water Resources Center in the civil engineering department has been researching hundreds of wells in the West Texas region and have found the chemical in low concentration.

"There is a significant number of wells with perchlorate in them," Jackson said.

The center's work with the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and the United States Department of Agriculture has taken the researchers throughout the region. Jackson said he would like to research wells further east in Texas.

Despite the chemical found in the region, the amount of perchlorate found has been in low concentration. Jackson said more research would need to be done in order to find out where the chemical originally came from.

In some cases, the chemical originated from rocket plants being in the area, Jackson said. The Water Resources Center does have their own hypotheses to the findings, but have not found any scientific evidence to back them up.

"It could be a natural chemical in the water or the natural use of Chilean fertilizers. A very small percentage of it could have been used in this area," Jackson said. "However, this is all a hypothesis. There is no scientific evidence in it yet."

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