Monday, October 06, 2008

Enviros Will Sue To Regulate Perchlorate If Necessary

Oct 3: Immediately after U.S. EPA announced that it had made a preliminary determination that there is not a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction" through a national drinking water regulation for exposure to perchlorate [See WIMS 10/3/08], environmental advocates announced they plan to sue the Agency. EPA said it had conducted an extensive review of scientific data related to the health effects of exposure to perchlorate from drinking water and other sources and found that in more than 99 percent of public drinking water systems, perchlorate was not at levels of public health concern.

Therefore, based on the Safe Water Drinking Act criteria, the Agency made its decision and is now seeking comment on its preliminary determination and will make a final determination for perchlorate after considering information provided in the 30-day public comment period. Despite the "preliminary" nature of EPA's decision, the environmental groups said the "decision represents a victory for the Department of Defense and military contractors, which for years have pressured EPA not to regulate perchlorate and other chemicals associated with weapons manufacturing."

Responding to the announcement, the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice said it plans to challenge any final EPA decision in court, representing the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other organizations concerned about the health effects of perchlorate in drinking water. Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said, "EPA's decision has industry's fingerprints all over it. Weapons makers will benefit at the expense of millions of Americans' drinking water spiked with rocket fuel. Clean, safe drinking water is essential. That's why we will fight in court to make sure this toxin is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act."

For years, perchlorate was disposed in the ground by the military and missile-makers. The highly soluble toxin has spread from bases and factories to wells and rivers across the country. The groups indicated that if limits for perchlorate in drinking water were set, the Defense Department and defense contractors could be found responsible for cleanups triggered by violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Hilda Solis (both D-CA) have pushed for legislation that would force EPA to set a federal perchlorate standard [See WIMS 5/6/08]. According to a release from Earthjustice, "Perchlorate concentrations of less than 5 parts per billion have been shown to inhibit iodine uptake by the thyroid gland, resulting in a decreased formation of two hormones necessary for proper oxygen consumption and metabolism. The harm is greatest in populations that are developing and growing rapidly, such as fetuses, infants, and young children."

Ben Dunham, Earthjustice environmental health policy analyst said, "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.' Because perchlorate contamination is often concentrated around military facilities, EPA's failure to protect the public from polluted drinking water will hit military families especially hard. These families have already sacrificed so much for this country. This decision adds insult to injury, by allowing contamination to continue."

Dr. Anila Jacob, MD, MPH, Senior Scientist at EWG said, “The health and well-being of millions of breast-fed babies are being ignored by EPA so the defense industry and their agents in the Pentagon can avoid cleaning up the mess they’ve made." The groups cited a 2005 GAO report listing state-by-state drinking water supplies contaminated by perchlorate.

According to an announcement from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Massachusetts and California have already set perchlorate standards at levels of 2 µg/L and 6 µg/L, respectively. AWWA, which recently completed two studies reviewing both occurrence and exposure of perchlorate, reported it “will work quickly to assess the details of the proposed regulatory determination and submit comments as appropriate based on the findings of these reports.” AWWA has posted information to help utilities communicate to customers about perchlorate.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, issued a statement saying, "Once again on a Friday, when nobody is paying attention, the Bush administration announces a policy that will harm the American people. The Bush EPA's failure to set a standard for perchlorate, a dangerous contaminant found in drinking water, is outrageous and I will do everything in my power to reverse it. Perchlorate contamination endangers the health of our families, especially pregnant women and children, and to simply allow it to remain in our drinking water is immoral." Boxer indicated that EPA says perchlorate is found in the drinking water supplies of up to 16.6 million Americans; however, other independent researchers have estimated that 20 million or more Americans are exposed to the toxin.

Access a release from Earthjustice and link to the GAO report (click here). Access a release from EWG (click here). Access EWG's research and related information on perchlorate (click here). Access the announcement from AWWA and link to further information (click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer (click here). Access EPA's draft regulatory determination and extensive background information (click here). [*Water]