Environmentalists Say State Should Strengthen Protection for Pregnant Woman and Infants

(January 25, 2005) -- Environmental, health and community groups today petitioned the state to act aggressively to protect pregnant women, their fetuses and newborn infants from a toxic rocket fuel chemical. The petition to the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health Services calls for immediate action to lower the amount of the chemical perchlorate allowed in drinking water.

"Rocket fuel in drinking water threatens our children," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, Environment California Research & Policy Center Clean Water Policy Advocate. "California should act immediately to protect the public."

The petition urges Cal-EPA to lower its perchlorate safety recommendation to one part per billion (1 ppb) and set an emergency standard to accelerate cleanup.

The state's currently proposed standard is 6 ppb. But the petition cited new data on perchlorate's toxicity and widespread contamination of water, milk and food, plus a new state law requiring drinking water standards to take into consideration the health of pregnant women and infants, as reasons a lower level is needed. After issuing an emergency standard, state officials would be required to review the data and issue a final standard within 240 days.

The groups urged state officials to immediately consider the study released earlier this month by the National Research Council (NRC), and recent Food and Drug Administration tests that found perchlorate contamination of food and milk is more widespread than previously thought. Under a law signed last year by Gov. Schwarzenegger (AB 2342-Jackson) the state must review the effects of perchlorate on pregnant women and infants in developing a perchlorate standard.

"Once California accounts for widespread contamination of food and the need to protect pregnant women and newborns, the conclusion is clear," said Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "The scientific evidence points toward a perchlorate standard of one part per billion."

Perchlorate, the major component of solid rocket propellant, contaminates more than 350 California drinking water sources, including the Colorado River. In small concentrations it can interfere with the thyroid gland's ability to produce hormones, resulting in a potential increase of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder in children.

The groups warned that the Pentagon and defense industry are pushing to allow much higher levels of perchlorate in drinking water -- 200 to 350 ppb. They said the lobbying effort had already succeeded in getting the NRC to dismiss studies showing adverse effects on young animals' brains at low doses, and to recommend a safe level based on body weight that was higher than recommended by the U.S. EPA. Despite these concerns, the petition states if the NRC's safe level is adjusted for babies' body weight and all sources of exposure including milk and food are considered, as NRC panelists have publicly urged, the safe level in drinking water should be 1 ppb or less.

"The State of California is charged with the responsibility to ensure that all Californians drink safe water," asserted Renee Sharp, Policy Analyst with the Environmental Working Group. "In addition to national studies that point toward a one part per billion standard, the law now requires us to strongly consider the effects of perchlorate on infants and pregnant women."

"Communities across the state are crying for the state to act immediately," concluded Andria Ventura, Environmental Health Organizer for Clean Water Action. "We hope that state policy-makers take the task of protecting our children seriously," added Penny Newman of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. "Any cleanup standard should protect kids from learning disabilities and other lifelong problems. Anything less is unacceptable."

Signatories to the petition submitted to the California Department of Health Services and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment included: Environment California, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Working Group, Sierra Club California, Clean Water Action, Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, INSIST and Citizens for Chuckwalla Valley.