California sets strong public health goal for toxic rocket-fuel chemical in drinking water

There is good news for public health in California today: the state is tackling rocket-fuel chemicals in drinking water.

Today's action sets an updated and strong public health goal for the chemical perchlorate, which was used by facilities that produced, used, or stored rocket fuel. It is also used in some other industrial processes and can be naturally occurring. The updated goal reflects new science on the dangers of the chemicals for infants. Perchlorate is widely found in drinking water across the state, contaminating the drinking water of an estimated ten million Californians.

Perchlorate is known to disrupt the normal functioning of thyroid hormones, which are essential to brain development, growth, heart function, and other systems. Exposure to perchlorate can have serious and irreversible adverse effects on the development of the brain in a fetus and in infancy. My colleague, Jen Sass, writes more about the chemical and the announcement here.

New science showed that infants are more likely to be harmed by the chemical than previously thought. Heeding that science, California has updated the previous public health goal from 6 parts per billion (ppb) to 1 ppb to better protect infants.

This does not mean that the fight is over. This health-based goal is just the first step in regulating the chemical--it's not an enforceable standard. The California Water Resources Control Board must now set an enforceable standard (known as a Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL), as close as possible to the public health goal, taking into account health effects, detection and clean-up technologies, and cost. The process has taken a long time in the past. We hope California will move quickly to set enforceable health-protective standards to build on its strong action today.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney, Sustainable Agriculture and Antibiotics and Western Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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