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California Affirms Low Limit of Rocket Fuel in Water Supplies

Tuesday, April 5, 2005
California will keep its recommendation for the legal limit of the toxic rocket fuel chemical perchlorate in drinking water at 6 parts per billion (ppb), despite EPA levels set over four times higher, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. California’s level takes into account rocket fuel exposure from multiple sources, including milk, lettuce and other foods. It was adjusted to protect the most sensitive populations, including pregnant mothers, infants and children.

California’s goal is not currently mandatory, but the state’s Department of Health Services is expected to set a legal maximum contamination level in the next few months. Canada and Massachusetts have also chosen stricter guidelines for rocket fuel contamination, which seeps into water and food primarily from spills and leaks at defense contractors’ and other industries’ factories.

EPA ratcheted its limit up to 24.5 ppb – more than 20 times higher than the preliminary safe level of 1 ppb it set in 2002 – based on January findings from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that its panel members said were widely misinterpreted. The NAS panel set a reference dose, or a safe amount per unit of body weight, which measures the safe level from all exposure sources. That’s not the same as a drinking water standard, which has to be stricter because a person can be exposed to perchlorate through other sources, such as food.

And because drinking water isn’t the only source of exposure to rocket fuel, setting the drinking water standard at the reference dose will lead to higher levels of the chemical in humans than NAS found to be safe.

Fetuses, infants and children are particularly at risk from rocket fuel contamination not just because of their lower body weights, but also from breastfeeding. A Texas Tech study released in February found rocket fuel in every sample of breast milk taken from 36 women across the country. The chemical, which has also been found in cow’s milk and lettuce, inhibits the thyroid gland’s ability to regulate hormones that govern brain and nervous system development.

View EWG’s most recent updates on rocket fuel contamination in milk and water.