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EWG Warns Senate Over Rocket Fuel in Nation's Drinking Water

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

WASHINGTON, May 6 – For almost 50 years, the federal government, defense contractors and the chemical industry have worked together to block public health protections against a component of rocket fuel that can disrupt children’s growth and development, Environmental Working Group (EWG) told a Senate committee Tuesday. EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a hearing on legislation by committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to set national safety standards for perchlorate in drinking water. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

“Perchlorate provides a textbook example of a corrupted health protection system, where polluters, the Pentagon, the White House and the EPA have conspired to block health protections in order to pad budgets, curry political favor, and protect corporate profits,” said Wiles.

Perchlorate has leaked from hundreds of military installations and defense plants nationwide, contaminating drinking water in at least 28 states. Studies by EWG, academic researchers and the Centers for Disease Control have found perchlorate in food, cow’s milk, human breast milk and the bodies of virtually every American.

“All the pieces needed to support strong health protections are in place,” said Wiles. “It is rare that science provides us with such a clear picture of a pollutant’s harmful effects . . . Yet this Administration has failed to act.” The reason, he said, is that perchlorate is “a nightmare of epic proportions for the Department of Defense and its contractors, and rather than address it head-on, they have spent 50 years and millions of dollars trying to avoid it. “

Among the tactics the opponents of perchlorate standards have deployed:

  • In 1962, rocket fuel manufacturers gained seats on a Department of Defense working group on propellants, where they worked to block health protections.

  • In 2002, a task force that included major defense contractors, the Pentagon and perchlorate makers tampered with a an article on perchlorate’s health effects in a leading academic journal, persuading the editors to rewrite it without the author’s knowledge or permission.

  • In 2005, the White House stacked a National Academy of Science panel charged with assessing the health risks of perchlorate with paid consultants to the rocket fuel industry, resulting in a recommended safe exposure level that is many times higher than the low doses supported by independent studies.

Wiles urged the committee to pass Boxer’s legislation, saying: “It is abundantly clear that without congressional intervention the public will not receive the protection that is so clearly justified by the science, and so obviously necessary given universal human exposure and clearly identified high-risk populations including infants, children, and pregnant women.” Beginning in 2000, a series of EWG research reports has documented and advocated solutions for perchlorate pollution problems in California and at the federal level. EWG scientists challenged the use of humans in perchlorate toxicity experiments at Loma Linda University, published the first survey of perchlorate-contaminated drinking water supplies nationwide, and commissioned laboratory studies that documented the presence of perchlorate in lettuce, cow's milk and human mothers' milk. EWG has urged state and federal regulators to adopt stringent, science-based health standards for perchlorate in water in order fully to protect infants and children, who are exceptionally vulnerable to the chemical.

See EWG Executive Director's Testimony PDF file.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.