October 7, 2008
EPA Proposal Wouldn’t Regulate Perchlorate in Drinking Water
By Jason Pesick
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced it does not intend to set a national drinking-water standard for perchlorate, a common contaminant in Southern California drinking water.
The proposal not to regulate the chemical, which is used to produce explosives, rocket fuel and fireworks, outraged environmentalists, who vowed to sue the agency once the decision becomes final.
The EPA made the announcement Friday.
"Just in a general sense, we see this as just another instance of politics trumping science in the Bush administration," said George Torgun, a lawyer for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm vowing to sue under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Perchlorate can interfere with the thyroid gland, affecting metabolism as well as mental and physical development.
It is found in wells throughout Southern California and the Inland Empire, including Rialto, which has such extensive contamination it will soon have an EPA Superfund site in the northern part of the city.
In California, perchlorate in drinking water is limited to 6 parts per billion. Massachusetts has a limit of 2 ppb.
In 2002, EPA scientists developed a draft protective level of 1 ppb, assuming all perchlorate intake comes through water. Perchlorate, though, can come from other sources, including milk and lettuce.
In a process criticized as being influenced by the defense industry, the National Academy of Sciences then developed a recommended reference dose of about 20 ppb, assuming a body weight of 150 pounds and that all perchlorate is ingested through water.
Once the EPA's latest decision not to set a standard is published in the Federal Register, there will be 30 days for public comment.
"We're working toward issuing a final decision by December of 2008," said agency spokeswoman Enesta Jones.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who has sponsored a bill to require the EPA to set a standard, blasted the decision.
Boxer and environmentalists say the Pentagon and defense contractors influenced the EPA through White House interference because perchlorate was often used by defense contractors around the country.
In July, Lockheed Martin, which has to clean up perchlorate contamination in the Redlands area, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the federal government to ask it to contribute to the cleanup costs of perchlorate and trichloroethylene at four Inland Empire sites, including the Redlands sites, because the company was working for the government.
A report this year by Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the EPA's risk-
assessment process lacks credibility because it is not sufficiently transparent and is subject to too much White House influence.
A draft of the latest EPA decision was heavily edited by the White House, according to a summary from the staff of Boxer's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
In the latest decision, the agency sets a health reference level for perchlorate at 15 ppb and says less than 1 percent of public drinking water sources exceed that level, meaning there would be little public health benefit to setting a national standard.
Torgun said if the EPA had chosen a lower level, it would have found that more people are affected.
According to the summary from the Senate staff, as many as 20 million to 40 million people may be served with water with detectable levels of perchlorate.
In about a week, after the decision is posted in the Federal Register, the public will be able to comment at www.regulations.gov by finding docket ID EPA-HQ-OW-2008-0068.
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