EPA Issues Guidance for Cleanups of Perchlorate

On Jan. 26, EPA issued new guidance for cleaning up perchlorate contamination, recommending a preliminary cleanup goal for perchlorate of 24.5 parts per billion (ppb) in water.

EPA's guidance is derived from the agency's reference dose for perchlorate which is based on recommendations and conclusions in a January 2005 report by the National Academy of Sciences, officials said.

This preliminary goal is a starting point for an evaluation of site-specific conditions. Consistent with current practice, final cleanup determinations should take site-specific information into consideration. The agency's action offers guidance to site managers to help ensure national consistency in evaluating perchlorate in light of widely varying state guidance, officials said.

Perchlorate has been detected in groundwater or drinking water at approximately 45 of the 1,500 sites on the agency's National Priorities List. Perchlorate salts were first produced in the United States in the mid-1940s, primarily for use by the U.S. military for explosives and rocket propellants. Perchlorate salts also have been used in other applications, including pyrotechnics and fireworks, blasting agents, matches, lubricating oils, air bags and certain types of fertilizers.

Previous guidance on perchlorate is explained in the current guidance document, which can be accessed at http://epa.gov/newsroom/perchlorate.pdf.

Critics of the guidance said that it is woefully inadequate to protect fetuses and children, noting that the state of California has set a 6 ppb standard.

"This standard fails to protect pregnant women, children and other vulnerable individuals from this dangerous health hazard," said U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). "Perchlorate can damage the mental and physical development of people, and even very low levels of this dangerous chemical block the body's ability to produce hormones that are essential for brain function and development.

"The standard also fails to account for perchlorate exposures from food, such as milk, grains and lettuce, which can contain concentrated amounts of perchlorate. EPA's standard also ignores new and mounting evidence that this toxic chemical is more prevalent in food than previously thought," Boxer said.

To read the guidance document, visit http://epa.gov/newsroom/perchlorate.pdf.

The NAS report, Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion, can be viewed at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11202.html.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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