August 3, 2008

Safety Standards Still Not in Place

They've been debating it for years, since 2002, when EPA scientists first suggested curbing perchlorate to 1 part per billion in potable water. In the meantime, the state of California has decreed 6 ppb as the threshold for the amount of perchlorate that can safely be ingested through drinking water.

We won't quibble with numbers. We're not scientists, after all.

But we'll question why the EPA has dragged its heels on settling on a number - any number - that would help pollution regulators determine the scope of work needed to clean our water of a chemical that interferes with the functioning of the thyroid gland, which controls nearly all metabolic functions in our bodies.

It's apparent EPA officials recognize the threat of perchlorate to public health. Why else get involved in Rialto's efforts to purge the perchlorate flowing through its water supply? Though the city's treatment system ensures perchlorate and other chemicals used in industrial cleaning are removed from the water before it reaches the tap, there is little doubt about the harm posed to those who ingest too much of it.

Sen. Barbara Boxer has been fighting for years to get the EPA to set a standard that protects children, pregnant women and other groups particularly susceptible to the effects of the chemical.

"Perchlorate is a clear and present danger to California's public health," Boxer said in 2003 after first introducing legislation to force the EPA to develop standards for the pollutant. "We can't wait to address this threat."

Yet, here we are. Waiting.

EPA officials chalk up the delay to the complexity of the issue - drinking water is only one source of perchlorate, they say. It's also found in milk, lettuce and other sources.

Boxer and others, meanwhile, accuse the EPA of playing politics and point to a March report from Government Accountability Office, which concluded the EPA's risk assessment process is influenced by the White House and other outside interests.

Thankfully, Boxer hasn't given up her fight. On Thursday, the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee passed bills she sponsored to require the EPA to set perchlorate standards and resume testing of contaminated sites. A date has not been set for the full Senate's consideration of the bills.

We hope it's soon. Once approved, S.B. 150 would give the EPA 18 months to finish the job it started eight years ago.

Better yet, EPA officials could spare the Senate the hassle of further debate and finish the job now.

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