In Reversal Of Bush Policy, EPA To Restrict Rocket Fuel Ingredient In Tap Water

After the Bush administration’s long fight to deter regulation of perchlorate, a toxic fuel ingredient found in everyday tap water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it will likely regulate and set a safe standard for the substance, which for years has been widely known to cause thyroid problems in young children and pregnant women. Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, said today that “[c]lean water is critical to the health and prosperity of every American community and a fundamental concern to every American family,” and outlined the Obama administration’s new standards for the chemical (which could take up to two years to develop).

As a result of rocket fuel testing sites improperly disposing the fuel ingredient, significant levels of perchlorate have been found in more than four percent of public water systems, and an estimated 5 to 17 million people may be drinking water contaminated with the rocket fuel component right now.

Back in 2003, in the name of military “readiness,” the Bush administration asked Congress to shield the Pentagon and other defense contractors from an array of environmental laws, and specifically those pertaining to perchlorate, even though EPA’s assessment at the time was that the chemical could cause serious health risks at one part per billion. The Pentagon and several of its suppliers, which would have faced clean up costs in the billions of dollars, argued that concentrations of perchlorate are safe in drinking water up to 200 times what the EPA proposed.

Then, in 2008, the EPA released a proposal outlining the safe contamination levels of perchlorate, which was heavily edited by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That same year, Melanie Marty, a representative of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and chair of EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, said that the EPA’s recommended standard on perchlorate “is not supported by the underlying science and can result in exposures that pose neurodevelopmental risks in early life.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) characterized the EPA’s move as “wonderful news”:

After calling for this standard for over eight years, I was so pleased to hear Administrator [Lisa] Jackson’s wonderful news that we are finally going to protect our families from perchlorate,’ said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer. ‘Exposure to perchlorate in drinking water is dangerous, especially for pregnant women, infants and children, because it can harm the body’s production of hormones necessary for mental and physical development.’

It’s important to note that a final decision on perchlorate’s regulation won’t be made until EPA’s public health assessment has been peer-reviewed and finalized, but based on current studies, Jackson said, “it is likely that we will tighten our drinking water standards for this chemical.”

Paul Breer

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