Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts & health tips from EWG. [Privacy]

Capps Bill Would Curb Toxic Perchlorate Contamination Chemical Found in California Water, Agriculture Products

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, April 28, 2003

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Lois Capps today introduced legislation to protect Americans from perchlorate, a chemical contaminate that has seeped into underground water supplies and has recently been detected in agricultural products such as lettuce. The Preventing Perchlorate Pollution Act would accelerate the establishment of an EPA standard for perchlorate, and require the enhanced access to community "right to know" information about perchlorate contamination.

"In California and across America we are witnessing the emergence of a dangerous contaminate called perchlorate, but we have precious little information about exactly where this chemical has infiltrated, who is responsible for its clean up, or just how dangerous it is to human health," said Capps. "Families deserve clean water and safe produce, not the fear of another chemical lurking in their food and water. It's time we aggressively respond to this public health threat by allowing communities access to information and speeding up EPA perchlorate standards."

Perchlorate is the main ingredient in rocket fuel, and is also used in ammunition, fireworks, highway safety flares, air bags, and fertilizers. Its presence in soil, groundwater, and surface water throughout the U.S. poses serious health risks, particularly for newborns, children, and pregnant women. Among other illnesses, perchlorate exposure has been linked to physical and mental retardation and thyroid cancer.

To date, the EPA has reports of contamination in 18 states and has documented perchlorate manufacturers or users in 39 states. According to EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment, only a small fraction of the perchlorate-using facilities have actually been investigated. Environmental groups estimate that more than 16 million people in California drink contaminated water from the Colorado River. Agricultural products such as lettuce grown in affected areas are consumed by millions more Americans throughout the country.

In addition, perchlorate has been detected in numerous sites on California's Central Coast, which Rep. Capps represents. In Santa Barbara County, perchlorate has been confirmed at Casmalia (hazardous waste landfill) and Vandenberg Air Force Base. In Ventura County, perchlorate contamination has been found at the U.S. Naval Air Station at San Nicholas Island and the Boeing (formerly Rocketdyne) Santa Susana Field Laboratory near Simi Valley. This site is located just west of the Los Angeles/Ventura County border and 2 miles east of the Ahmanson Ranch well that recently detected perchlorate.

The Preventing Perchlorate Pollution Act, introduced today with 20 bipartisan cosponsors, will:

Establish Perchlorate Standard

  • Under EPA's current schedule, 2006 is the earliest date a standard would be finalized. The Preventing Perchlorate Pollution Act would require EPA to set Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) drinking water standard for perchlorate by July 1, 2004.

Require Community Right to Know and Retroactive Disclosure

  • Require anyone who stored or transported more than 375 pounds of perchlorate from January 1, 1950 to report on such activities to the EPA no later than June 1, 2005. Failure to report would result in fines. This does not apply to facilities that store perchlorate for retail (such as flares at home hardware stores) or law enforcement purposes.
  • Require anyone who discharges perchlorate into the water to report the discharge, its volume, monitoring methods, and remedial actions to the EPA. Failure to do so would result in fines. EPA must publish this information in the Federal Register beginning on or before June 1, 2005, and on an annual basis thereafter.
  • Require EPA to annually publish a list of perchlorate storage facilities beginning on or before June 1, 2005.
  • All fees and fines would be deposited into a loan fund for public water suppliers and private well owners to pay for clean water when their water is shut down because of perchlorate contamination.

Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced related legislation in the U.S. Senate.