The problem with perchlorate

Some people have been kicking up an awful lot of fuss about the EPA’s decision to not regulate the amount of perchlorate found in drinking water. If you don’t track hazardous waste in the environment as obsessively as we do, perchlorate is an explosive used in rocket propellant and fireworks that has been detected in the water supplies of 35 states. It’s also shown up in leafy vegetables irrigated with Colorado River water, and in milk from California cows, indicating that perchlorate can disperse and concentrate itself in everything from the environment, to the food we eat, to our own bodies. No studies have yet been released on the chemical’s effect on aquatic life, but we do know it’s hazardous to humans. Perchlorate, according to the FDA, disrupts thyroid hormone function. Fetuses and infants are particularly at risk because thyroid hormones are crucial to normal central nervous system growth and development.

We at Plenty just can’t wrap our heads around why the EPA wouldn’t regulate a chemical that is known to be hazardous to humans. Or actually, maybe we can: Ironically, we have the Department of Defense to thank for the rocket fuel, according to congressional investigators. All that aerospace activity and missile testing over the last 50 years dumped an awful lot of this thyroid-disrupting chemical into the environment, but the EPA decided that there is no 'meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction' through stricter national regulation. Shockingly, most chemical contaminants associated with munitions use are unregulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, indicating that the EPA is in the DoD’s and munitions industry’s pocket, and doesn’t have the best interests of the American people in mind (shocking!).

Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm originally established by the Sierra Club, agrees, and is suing the EPA for caving under the pressure from the DoD and military contractors who would be required to clean up after themselves if national regulations were enacted. With any luck, the folks at Earthjustice will be able to pull through a victory. They claim that perchlorate concentrations of less than 5 parts per billion have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, a number well below the 24.5 parts per billion declared safe by the EPA.

"According to EPA, at least 10 million people have rocket fuel in their drinking water. Yet today, the agency says there is not a 'meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction.' I'm sure the 10 million people drinking contaminated water think cleaning up their water supply would be 'meaningful,'" said Ben Dunham, Earthjustice environmental health policy analyst.

Sorry spin doctors—we mean, er, EPA officials—but we just don’t share your sugarcoated view of hazardous chemicals in the water. Earthjustice and the American people say you have to do better than this.

-Rachel Brown