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Perchlorate -- Let's Get Serious

Monday, April 6, 2009



The kid and husband were at a cycling race, so Saber the Wonder Dog and I drove out to the Shenandoah Valley and hit the trail that runs along the waterfalls. Last week's rains were crashing down the rocks, and the spray smelled fresh and cool.

But nobody was drinking out of those seemingly pristine pools. I'd lugged a bottle of water from home, and so had the Boy Scouts, the exchange students, the families and toddlers, the dog walkers and the trout fishermen. Just because it occurs naturally, doesn't mean it's safe Nothing in the water that wasn't natural. But we all knew that included bear scat, deer scat, fox scat, raccoon scat, dead crawfish and eau de possum. (Saber the W.D.'s fave.) And of course, those unforgettable little giardia bombs.

Which got me to thinking about some of the reactions to our perchlorate report, published last week. Our report highlighted a recent study by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who had found perchlorate, a component of solid rocket fuel and a thyroid toxin, in all 15 brands of powdered infant formula tested. The most popular types of formula, made with cow's milk, were also the most contaminated, according to the study.

After we published our analysis of the CDC study, a number of people posted dismissive comments arguing that perchlorate occurs in nature and suggesting that concerns about it were exaggerated.

True enough, there's a baseline level of perchlorate in the earth - as the CDC scientists duly noted. But there's a heck of a lot more perchlorate in the water and soil around old rocket launch sites and chemical-making and storage locations. The CDC report pointed out, for instance, that much contamination found in certain California wells came from the Colorado River and originated at a former perchlorate manufacturing facility in Nevada.

The Colorado, by the way, is a source of drinking water for something like 25 million people and irrigation water for vast farm acreage.

Anyhow, however an impurity gets into source water, we don't drink source water, and we sure don't let our kids drink it. We routinely treat our municipal water, and some of us filter our tap water to take out perchlorate, along with other nasties like lead and arsenic.

Which, of course, occur in nature. And are not to be trifled with.

Lead occurs naturally, too (According to the Environmental Protection Agency Journal, the Romans -- early globalists -- knew that lead mining and smelting were poisonous and banished these noxious activities to the provinces, to be carried out by slaves and other expendables. But they found lead plates and goblets too convenient to give up, so they ignored the subtle symptoms of trace lead toxicity, among them intelligence deficits, mental illness and reproductive problems.) What have we learned? Haven't we learned a thing or two over the last couple of millenia? Lead's neurotoxicity is well established. There is still much to study about the effects of trace perchlorate. But scientists have established that it can impair production of thyroid hormones, which are essential for brain development in early life and for good health in later life.

We know enough, in other words, not to gamble on our kids' health.

The solution to perchlorate pollution is federal regulation and a serious clean-up financed by the defense and aerospace industries that spilled the stuff in the first place. What we don't need to do is delude ourselves.

I wade in those sparkling pools. So do my kid and my husband, when not cycling or ice-climbing. And of course, Saber the W.D. noses in.

But natural or not, we don't drink the water.

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