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Perchlorate to be Regulated – Republicans Want EPA Restricted

February 4, 2011

Let me see. The EPA wants to regulate rocket fuel in America’s drinking water. That’s a good thing, even though the water is already polluted. The Republicans, led by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich, wants to restrict the EPAs power to do such things. That’s a bad thing. Pretty simple.

The environmental agency has found measurable amounts of perchlorate in 26 states and two United States territories that it says could contaminate the drinking water of anywhere from 5 million to 17 million Americans.

An article in the Huffington Post explains.

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is setting the first federal drinking water standard for a toxic rocket fuel ingredient linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women and young children, the Obama administration announced on Wednesday.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said that setting the standard will protect public health and spark new technologies to clean up drinking water. Based on monitoring conducted from 2001 to 2005, 153 drinking water sources in 26 states contain perchlorate. The standard could take up to two years to develop, the EPA said.

Perchlorate is also used in fireworks and explosives. In most cases, water contamination has been caused by improper disposal at rocket testing sites, military bases and chemical plants.

Jackson is expected to make that case before a Senate panel Wednesday, where she will likely face opposition from Republicans who plan to take on the EPA over air pollution regulations, controls on the gases blamed for global warming, and other regulations. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the top Republican on the environment panel, will bring forward legislation Wednesday to strip the agency of its ability to control heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., will release an identical draft bill.

Democrats, who have pushed for the EPA to regulate perchlorate, say the decision shows the administration standing up for rules that protect public health, even if they burden business. President Barack Obama recently announced a review of all regulations to reduce barriers to economic growth and investment.

The perchlorate standard is eight years in the making. In 2002, an EPA draft risk assessment found that 1 part per billion should be considered safe. Six years later, the Bush administration decided not to regulate the chemical, instead recommending that concentrations not exceed 15 parts per billion. At the time, federal scientists estimated that 16.6 million Americans could be exposed to unsafe levels through their drinking water.

California and Massachusetts in the meantime have set state-level drinking water standards.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who has sponsored legislation to require the EPA to set a standard, said in a statement Wednesday that she was pleased the government was “finally going to protect our families from perchlorate.” California has the most water supplies affected – 58, according to the 2001-05 data. Many of the others are in Texas.

Source: Huffington Post

Related Back Story from January 2005:

A toxic chemical used to fuel Cold War-era missiles and the rockets that put man on the moon has left a legacy of contamination across the Southwest, where it pinches the region’s already tight supply of drinking water.

The chemical, called perchlorate, pollutes much of the lower Colorado River — the main water source for 20 million people across the Southwest — and has forced the shutdown of hundreds (300+) of wells in California.

State and federal officials are still debating how much risk perchlorate poses when ingested and what limits should be set for the chemical, a process slowed partly by lawsuits filed by defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. that worry they could be on the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Thousands of people have sued the companies that once made or handled perchlorate, alleging years of drinking water laced with the chemical have caused cancers and other illnesses.

The single largest source of contamination is a former Kerr-McGee Corp. rocket fuel plant outside Las Vegas.

For decades, waste water containing perchlorate was left to seep into the ground, a company official said.

“There were probably 20-plus years when we didn’t have the environmental awareness we have today,” said Pat Corbett, the former plant manager who is now the company’s environmental technology director.

The site still leaches as much as 900 pounds of perchlorate a day into a wash that drains into the Colorado River, the main water source for much of Arizona, southern California and southern Nevada.

Across the nation, millions more eat vegetables grown with Colorado River water. What risk the vegetables could pose, if any, is unknown.

“It’s really one of the most massive pollution problems the water industry has ever seen,” said Timothy Brick, a member of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Across California, nearly 300 wells are contaminated. Most are in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where dozens of aerospace factories hummed during the Cold War.

California officials have proposed what they consider a safe level of perchlorate of two to six parts per billion and hope to set the nation’s first standard by 2004. However, Lockheed Martin and Kerr-McGee forced the state to submit the draft recommendation to further outside review, including by industry-picked experts, delaying the process by months.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s draft proposal is stricter: one part per billion.

Perchlorate in the Colorado River has been measured as high as 9 parts per billion.

It will take years to discover the extent of perchlorate contamination nationwide, and cleanup will take decades more, to the consternation of people like Wise-Tates.

“I would just hope no one else has to go through this, but I am sure they will, until they find some way to clean up the water,” she said.


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