NRDC Suit Seeks Evidence of Pressure by Defense Contractors, Federal Agencies to Scuttle Safety Standards for Compound Contaminating Drinking Water Nationwide
LOS ANGELES (March 23, 2006) -- A federal judge in California today ordered the Bush Administration to release information that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes would show that several agencies conspired with defense contractors to avoid cleaning up a dangerous compound used in rocket and missile fuel that is contaminating the drinking water of 20 million Americans.
The ruling against the Pentagon, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) came in response to an NRDC lawsuit charging that the agencies illegally withheld evidence showing efforts to delay or kill new federal health standards that would require major cleanup, especially in Southern California. The substance, perchlorate, is known to cause developmental damage by affecting the thyroid gland. It is especially harmful to the neurological systems of infants and developing fetuses. Over the years, manufacturers have been improperly disposing of perchlorate, which has leached into the Colorado River, a major source of drinking water for Los Angeles, Las Vegas and northern Arizona.
In a 34-page opinion published today, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Allen Feess said that while the three agencies had released some documents to the NRDC, they had wrongly withheld many others. These include evidence that OMB gave information to lobbyists working for chemical companies and aeronautics firms that "suggested preferential treatment."
"Today's ruling is a victory for public health and a blow to the Bush Administration's private dealings with the defense industry," said NRDC attorney Aaron Colangelo.
The NRDC lawsuit charged that the OMB, Department of Defense and EPA violated the law by refusing to turn over documents regarding both the nature of industry involvement in EPA's perchlorate safety assessment and White House lobbying on behalf of industry.
The lawsuit also charged that the government agencies have refused to disclose records revealing the scope of perchlorate contamination in the nation's drinking water and the threat it poses to public health.
NRDC had asked the federal District Court in Los Angeles to compel these agencies to turn over relevant documents, as they are required to do under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
"It appears that the White House and Pentagon have joined forces with a handful of defense contractors to stop EPA from doing its job," said NRDC Senior Attorney Erik D. Olson. "They want EPA out of the business of protecting the public from this dangerous tap water toxin because it would cost the Pentagon and industry polluters millions of dollars to clean it up."
Perchlorate interferes with thyroid hormone uptake. Because thyroid hormones are necessary for normal growth and development, perchlorate exposure can harm brain development in fetuses and newborn babies. Perchlorate also poses a threat to people who already have thyroid problems or an iodine deficiency, which includes 15 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age.
"Perchlorate contamination potentially threatens the health of tens of millions of Americans, particularly fetuses and newborns," said NRDC physician Dr. Gina Solomon.
Perchlorate has been used to make fuel for rockets and missiles in 49 states, and detected in ground or drinking water in at least half of those states. Levels found in the Colorado River have exceeded EPA's draft exposure limits.
According to NRDC sources inside EPA, the White House has weighed in heavily on the side of the Pentagon and industry to shut down EPA efforts to clean up perchlorate water contamination. The administration and DOD also recently proposed legislation to exempt DOD and its industry contractors from legal responsibility to clean up perchlorate contamination.
Drinking water utilities, worried about perchlorate pollution of tap water, have vigorously opposed these proposals (for more information, click here).
To find out more, NRDC filed FOIA requests in 2003 with EPA in March, DOD in September, and OMB in December.