NRDC Argues EPA Failure to Regulate Perchlorate is Unlawful

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, today lawyers for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) told a three-judge panel that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision against regulating the toxic chemical perchlorate in drinking water was illegal.

The following is a reaction by Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director for Health at NRDC: 

“Today the court heard why EPA’s refusal to set a drinking water standard for the widespread toxic chemical perchlorate is unlawful and unsupported by science. Doctors and health experts have long called for EPA to protect the public, especially fetuses, infants, and young children, from this brain-damaging toxic chemical. We are hopeful that the court will rule that EPA erred and must move ahead with a perchlorate standard.” 


Last March, the EPA announced it would not revisit a decision to not regulate perchlorate, a toxic component of rocket fuel associated with brain damage in fetuses and infants, leaving millions of people unknowingly exposed to the chemical through their tap water. The determination affirmed a Trump EPA decision to not regulate perchlorate in drinking water. 

Perchlorate, widely used in rocket fuel and munitions, and also a component of fireworks and certain other industrial chemicals, is the first unregulated drinking water contaminant for which EPA has proposed a standard in more than 25 years under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996. The Defense Department (DOD) and its contractors are major users of perchlorate and there are innumerable DOD facilities where perchlorate pollution has been found. DOD has opposed strict controls on perchlorate, in an apparent attempt to minimize its cleanup costs. 

Since perchlorate is unregulated, there is no federally required monitoring of tap water or requirement to inform a community of contamination. In 2011, the EPA formally decided that perchlorate should be regulated because it is toxic and widespread, with the drinking water of as many as 16 million people contaminated by the chemical. When the Agency failed to develop a standard by the deadline, NRDC sued, and then secured a court-approved consent decree requiring the EPA to issue a drinking water standard for perchlorate by 2019.   

NRDC agreed to extend the court-ordered deadline to 2020 when the Trump Administration asked for additional time. Ignoring the court order, the Trump EPA announced in 2020 that it was purporting to rescind the Obama-era finding that a standard should be set. The Trump Administration contended that EPA’s 2008 health advisory for perchlorate in drinking water is far more protective of health than needed.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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