Setting Perchlorate Policy Limits. Is it Too Little, Too Late?

Limits on toxic perchlorate to be set for tap water
By Wendy Koch and Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will develop the first standard to limit how much of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient one linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women and young children can be allowed in tap water.
By Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images file EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson gives a speech at a Washington conference in September.

Between 5 million and 17 million Americans are exposed to perchlorate in the water they drink, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Wednesday.

Perchlorate, both a man-made and naturally occurring chemical, has been found in drinking water, groundwater and soil in 45 states, according to a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. EPA has detected it in at least 160 of 3,864 public water systems, and a 2006 study by the Food and Drug Administration found it in 74% of 285 food items tested.

Jackson told senators that it will take several years to develop the standard and that the agency is also moving to regulate up to 16 toxic chemicals in drinking water that may pose risks to human health.

Democrats , including California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer , have pushed the EPA for years to regulate perchlorate, used in fireworks, rocket fuel, flares and explosives. “The Bush administration never set a drinking water standard for perchlorate leaving millions of Americans in dozens of states at risk. But after reviewing the science, you reversed that decision,” Boxer told Jackson in Wednesday’s hearing.

Environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council , applauded EPA’s effort.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Mae Wu, an NRDC lawyer. She said the defense industry widely used the chemical in rocket testing, and while it’s concentrated near military facilities, it has seeped into the groundwater in many states.
GREEN HOUSE: Our online envrironmental community Defense contractors have opposed setting a standard, and an industry-funded group said Wednesday that one is not needed.

“A national standard will be of questionable public health benefit,” said the Perchlorate Information Bureau, which is supported by Aerojet , American Pacific Corp., ATK and Lockheed Martin . It says 13 states have already enacted some type of perchlorate policy.

Jackson said the EPA is also working to limit chromium-6, a probable carcinogen, in drinking water. The chemical, used to make steel and metal plating, was made famous in the movie , starring Julia Roberts as a single mom who fought to help residents of Hinkley, Calif., where drinking water was contaminated by chromium-6.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group found chromium-6 in more than 30 public water systems in December, prompting EPA to issue guidelines on how to test for the chemical.

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