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Helen Zukin
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Tougher State Standards Urged for Perchlorate in Drinking Water

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Tougher state standards for perchlorate in water urged. Is there a “safe” level of perchlorate?

State health officials with the Department of Health Services have been urged to require water providers to clean up perchlorate contamination in drinking water. Perchlorate is a highly toxic component of rocket fuel and as a result of decade’s of military and aerospace industry activities is now a serious contaminant in a large number of California drinking water supplies. Perchlorate is now so pervasive in our environment that it can be found in many foods as well as milk.

The problem of perchlorate contamination is a serious one for California in that at least 100 water agencies, with more than 450 drinking water wells, have significant levels of perchlorate. At issue is what the state should consider to be the “safe” level of perchlorate in our water. Anything above the “safe” level would require water purveyors and polluters to expend significant resources required to clean the water to a lower level.

A very recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that perchlorate at low levels, may disrupt the proper function of women’s thyroid glands. The thyroid affects a woman’s reproductive ability and is vital to the proper functioning of the body. The confirmation of a link between perchlorate exposure and thyroid disease has raised concerns in health and environmental communities across the country that the federal guidelines for perchlorate in water are too high (24.5 parts per billion perchlorate in water).

The state of California is being urged to lower its perchlorate standard to below the proposed regulation of 6 parts per billion which is weaker than the 2 parts per billion limit required by Massachusetts.

“There shouldn’t be any rocket fuel in our drinking water,” said Jan Misques, a policy director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. However, a countervailing view is held by those who are responsible for the perchlorate in California water. “James Strock of the Council on Water Quality, which is funded by Lockheed Martin, Aerojet and other aerospace companies, said state health officials should factor in economic costs, not just health risks, when setting a final standard for drinking water.”
The issue is how to balance public safety with the concerns of industry regarding the costs of clean up.

Kiesel Boucher Larson works to monitor public health issues and ensure that those injured by toxic chemicals receive fair compensation.