Bush Administration Withholding Evidence that White House and Industry Are Blocking Rocket Fuel Pollution Cleanup, NRDC Lawsuit Charges

Administration Inaction Threatens Children's Health, Says NRDC

LOS ANGELES (March 24, 2004) -- The White House, the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency are illegally withholding evidence of defense industry and White House pressure to delay or kill federal health standards for a chemical that has contaminated drinking water supplies for millions of Americans, according to a lawsuit filed today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The chemical, perchlorate, a primary component of rocket fuel, harms the thyroid and is especially dangerous for infants.

The NRDC lawsuit charges that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), DOD and EPA have violated the law by refusing to disclose documents regarding both the nature of industry involvement in EPA's assessment of perchlorate's safety and White House lobbying on behalf of industry. The lawsuit also charges that these 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 asked the federal District Court here to force these agencies to turn over relevant documents, as they are required to do under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"This is likely the latest example of the Bush administration scheming with its industry friends behind closed doors to undermine safeguards for our children's health," said NRDC attorney Aaron Colangelo. "The public has a right to know the extent of this contamination, and whether the Bush administration is sacrificing the health of our children to satisfy corporate polluters' demands."

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," said Dr. Gina Solomon, an NRDC physician, "potentially threatens the health of tens of millions of Americans, particularly fetuses and newborns."

A chemical primarily used in rocket fuel, perchlorate has been used in significant quantities in 49 states, and has been released into the environment in at least half of those states. This widespread release of perchlorate into the environment has contaminated more than 20 million Americans' drinking water -- especially in Los Angeles and much of central and southern California -- above EPA's draft safe level for perchlorate exposure, which is 1 part per billion (ppb).

"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."

According to NRDC sources inside EPA, the Bush White House has weighed in heavily on the side of the Pentagon and industry to shut down EPA's efforts to clean up perchlorate water contamination. The Bush 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 last year with EPA in March, DOD in September, and OMB in December. To date, the agencies have not provided NRDC with any relevant documents. In today's lawsuit, NRDC seeks to compel EPA, DOD and the White House to fulfill their basic obligations under freedom of information laws and disclose records of their communications with industry regarding perchlorate.