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Rocket Fuel in Our Drinking Water?

Perchlorate, a common ingredient in rocket fuel and a potent thyroid toxin, will finally be regulated in drinking water, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced today.

The agency promised upcoming limits for up to 16 other “toxic chemicals” in drinking water. Currently, EPA regulates approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water.

Environmental Working Group has advocated for federal regulation of perchlorate since its 2001 investigation of perchlorate contamination in California drinking water. In 2009, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found perchlorate in 15 top-selling brands of infant formula. Levels were high enough that if the formula was mixed with even minimally perchlorate-tainted water, infants could ingest more than EPA’s “safe” level. EWG immediately urged the Obama administration to take action to regulate the chemical, which EPA estimates to be in the drinking water of up to 17 million Americans.

“Since there is no question about the low-dose toxicity of perchlorate, maybe its time for Americans to stop drinking rocket fuel,” Ken Cook, president and co-founder of EWG, said. “Perchlorate contamination from industrial, agricultural and natural sources will continue to pollute us through other food exposures. It demands robust safeguards in water to protect public health.”

Federal scientists have documented evidence of the dangers of the rocket fuel component for years. A 2006 CDC survey suggested that perchlorate may be the culprit in altered thyroid hormone levels in women. In 2008, three EPA scientific advisory panels objected to a Bush administration decision not to regulate perchlorate pollution. The administration took that position after strenuous lobbying by the defense and aerospace industries, which hoped to avoid expensive clean-ups. Today’s announcement reverses that stance.

Last month, California regulators proposed to decrease the state’s public health goal for perchlorate from 6 to 1 part per billion. They acted to ensure extra protections for infants. Perchlorate exposure can interfere with normal brain development, according to recent research.

Jackson has made cleaning up drinking water a top priority for her agency. “The aim is to find solutions that meet the health and economic needs of communities across the country more effectively than the current approach," Jackson said in an interview with CNN. A 2009 analysis by EWG of the nation’s drinking water found 315 pollutants in water, 202 of which have no legal limit in tap water.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.


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