NRDC Joins Medical Experts: Drinking Perchlorate Is Bad!

Don’t want toxic rocket fuel in your drinking water? Don’t like feeding your family chemicals that block thyroid function and interfere with growth and brain development? Then you will hate the Trump EPA’s proposal to set a drinking water limit for perchlorate that treats a loss of 2 IQ points as a no-effect level!

Perchlorate acts to block the production of thyroid hormone, which is necessary for normal growth and development. Neurodevelopmental problems are known to be associated with low thyroid hormone levels during development.Some of these, like ADHD and autism, can occur even without any measurable loss of IQ points.

Now, the Trump EPA is proposing to set both the enforceable drinking water Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 56 µg/L, or parts per billion, ppb. The EPA also states that it may set the MCL at 18 ppb, 90 ppb, or withdraw it altogether, leaving toxic rocket fuel in the water and foods of Americans. In 2016 NRDC sued EPA to set a health-protective drinking water standard for perchlorate. EPA has been delaying for too long already, and now this proposal is an outrage.

That's why fifty pediatricians and other doctors, health scientists, and environmental advocates joined together to tell EPA Administrator Wheeler that, "The EPA proposal for this widespread and hazardous drinking water contaminant is deeply concerning. If finalized, it would leave millions of Americans unprotected. We urge the agency to establish a standard based on the best available science of no greater than 2 parts per billion." Among the fifty doctors and others that signed the letter, are the following health groups:

  • Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
  • Breast Cancer Prevention Partners
  • Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN)
  • Clean Water Action
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Healthy Babies Bright Futures
  • National Hispanic Medical Association
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • The Rubin Center for Autism and Developmental Pediatrics

In addition, NRDC submitted lengthy detailed technical-legal comments to EPA letting it know that we are strongly opposed to its proposal, for the following reasons:

  • The best available peer-reviewed science supports the conclusion that the Agency’s proposal will cause harm at the population level;
  • Failure to include an adequate margin of safety violates the clear requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and will ensure that the proposed MCL will not be public health protective;
  • The most vulnerable subpopulations, pregnant women and their offspring, will be permanently harmed.
  • EPA has unlawfully failed to meaningfully consider many of the quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits of establishing a lower, more health-protective standard for perchlorate. 

In our comments, NRDC demonstrates that for the above reasons, EPA’s proposal fails to meet the legal requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This unlawful proposal should be withdrawn, and without any more delays EPA should set an enforceable drinking water standard of 1-2 ppb. This would be similar to some states, where state health officials have undertaken detailed assessments of the studies of perchlorate and set drinking water standards based on the best available science of 2 ppb (in Massachusetts) and 6 ppb (in California). Additionally, in its 2015 reevaluation, California issued a revised Public Health Goal of 1 ppb, based on updated values of infants’ water consumption, and new evidence that even very small reductions in thyroid hormones or iodine levels could cause adverse impacts on offspring brain development and function.

Perchlorate is found in the water at almost 70 percent (248) of military installations that have been tested. With EPA’s current proposal, the only people that will be protected from harm are the polluters—the Department of Defense and military contractors—that won’t have to clean up their mess! 

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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