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Rocket fuel, yet again

Monday, September 22, 2008

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Enviroblog readers are very familiar with the health risks posed by perchlorate, a thyroid hormone disruptor and rocket fuel chemical that contaminates water supplies of millions of Americans in 28 states. EWG analysis brought public attention to the fact that three quarters of the most commonly consumed foods and beverages are contaminated with perchlorate, making food the primary source of exposure to people. And many Americans are getting a double perchlorate hit – both from food and water. Especially at risk from perchlorate are women with lowered iodide levels (a third of the US population) and newborn children whose developing brain vitally depends on adequate levels of thyroid hormone.

Ignoring an extensive body of science on perchlorate health effects and two recent reports by the Government Accountability Office, EPA has again and again refused to take any action to address perchlorate contamination of drinking water as well as groundwater, surface water, and soil across the country, leaving the health of Americans at risk. Why? As testified by the EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “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.”

Today, new research from scientists at the University of Texas Arlington points to the most vulnerable population exposed to perchlorate – nursing infants. Scientists examined perchlorate levels in thirteen mother-child pairs and compared a mother’s dietary intake of iodine, her exposure to perchlorate, and the resultant concentration of iodide and perchlorate in her breast milk. They found that a while only one fifth’s of mother’s dietary iodide enters into her breast milk, a full half of her dose of perchlorate is transferred to milk, which is of course ingested by the infant. The study also confirms strong concerns about sufficient iodine intake both by the nursing infant and by the breast-feeding mother.

This study highlights the urgent need to protect the health of our children at the most vulnerable beginning stage of life. However, rather than being consumed by worries, mothers can take several effective steps to protect their children.

First, breast milk is still the best food for the infants’ long-term health. Second, intake of iodized salt is a good way to increase our intake of this essential nutrient. For other tips on what parents can do to create safer homes for their children, check out EWG’s Healthy Home Tips . Finally, our society needs aggressive public health protections from thyroid toxins in the environment, starting with perchlorate. After 50 years of deception and delay we need to pass strong legislation to safeguard our water from perchlorate contamination. For millions of Americans who have dual sources of exposure to perchlorate both in food and drinking water, setting national safety standards for perchlorate in drinking water is imperative. EWG has been at the forefront of advocating for state and federal establishment of stringent, science-based health standards for perchlorate in water in order fully to protect infants and children, who are exceptionally vulnerable to the chemical.

By EWG Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko, Ph.D.