Agency Calls for Comments; Groups Plan Suit on Perchlorate Decision

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comment on its preliminary determination not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water at a national level. EPA will make a final determination for perchlorate after considering information provided in the 30-day public comment period, according to an Oct. 3 press release.

? The agency conducted 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 determined there is not a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction" through a national drinking water regulation.

??While less than one percent of the drinking water sources have perchlorate levels above the health reference level, EPA is committed to working with states and localities to ensure public health is protected. States have the right to establish and enforce drinking water standards and EPA encourages state-specific situations to be addressed at the local level. EPA intends to issue a health advisory at the time it issues its final regulatory determination for perchlorate, to assist states with their local response.

??A regulatory determination is a formal decision by EPA as to whether it should initiate development of a national primary drinking water regulation for a specific contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants. Every five years, EPA develops a Contaminant Candidate List of contaminants to consider for regulation and then makes regulatory determinations on some of the contaminants based on scientific information on health effects, occurrence in drinking water, and the opportunity for risk reduction.

??A health advisory provides technical guidance to federal, state, and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methods, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. Health advisories also contain guidance values that are concentrations of a contaminant in drinking water that are likely to be without adverse health effects.

??Nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice said it plans to sue EPA over its refusal to set limits for perchlorate in drinking water. The firm would be representing the Environmental Working Group and other organizations concerned about the health effects of perchlorate. A primary ingredient in rocket fuel, munitions, and explosives, perchlorate has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns and young children nationwide.

An Earthjustice press release described the decision to not regulate perchlorate as a victory for the Department of Defense and military contractors.

"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," said Earthjustice Attorney George Torgun. "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 dumped 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. 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.

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.

"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.

A 2005 GAO report with a state-by-state list of drinking water supplies contaminated by perchlorate can be found at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05462.pdf (see Appendix II).

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