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Study: Rocket Fuel Chemical Harms the Developing Fetus

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Pregnant women’s exposure to a rocket fuel chemical, which contaminates drinking water for millions of Americans, could harm the development of fetuses' brains, a new British study found.

The study, published in Endocrine Abstracts and reported by Time magazine, examined the perchlorate exposure of 308 women from southwest England in their third trimester of pregnancy. Higher levels of perchlorate in their urine were associated with lower levels of the thyroid hormone T4, which is essential for fetal brain development.

In 2001, a groundbreaking EWG investigation found that perchlorate contaminated drinking water for almost 7 million Californians and unknown millions of other Americans. Perchlorate is the explosive component in rocket fuel and an ingredient in some fertilizers. It can contaminate food crops and milk produced with perchlorate-tainted water, and also baby formulabreast milk and many foods children eat, such as rice cereals and lunch meats. Yet it remains unregulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Here are five things you should know about perchlorate.

1. Why is perchlorate dangerous?

Perchlorate interferes with the normal functioning of the thyroid hormonal system, blocking the thyroid gland's ability to utilize iodine, an essential nutrient. Harm to the thyroid during pregnancy and early infancy can impair the cognitive development of a young child.

2. How many people have perchlorate in their water?

EPA-mandated testing between 2001 and 2003 found perchlorate in drinking water systems serving over 16.6 million people. This testing underestimated the extent of perchlorate pollution because it didn’t include smaller water systems or well water.

3. Why hasn’t the EPA regulated perchlorate?

Perchlorate is the only unregulated contaminant for which the EPA has attempted to set a federal drinking water standard since 1996. However, the agency has yet to propose a draft limit, let alone a final one. The Department of Defense and military contractors who have used and released large quantities of perchlorate have actively lobbied against regulation.

4. President Trump’s EPA nominee defends perchlorate.

As EWG reported in September, Michael Dourson, President Trump’s pick to run the EPA's chemical safety office, has been paid by perchlorate makers and users to argue for a weak drinking water standard for the chemical. Dourson has advocated for a legal limit on perchlorate up to eight times weaker than the level proposed by the EPA and up to 16 times weaker than the public health goal set by California state scientists.

5. What can I do to protect my child from perchlorate?

First of all, getting enough iodine is critical during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, even if perchlorate isn’t detected in your drinking water. Women should select a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 150 micrograms of potassium iodine. Iodine, which remains essential throughout childhood, is found in fortified salt and occurs naturally in some foods.

Food and Drug Administration data show that perchlorate contamination has risen in certain foods between 2003 to 2006 and 2008 to 2012, as documented in an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund. This contamination likely comes from food processing and storage methods, such as the addition of perchlorate as an anti-static agent in plastic packaging, and the use of bleach for washing fruits and vegetables. That’s why it’s essential for parents – and all Americans – to demand the FDA ban perchlorate use in food packaging and ensure manufacturers limit perchlorate formation when bleach is used on food.  

If perchlorate is detected in your water, you can use a reverse osmosis home water filter to reduce the level. Only drink filtered water if you have perchlorate in your drinking water and are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a young child at home, as these are critical periods of sensitivity.


This post was updated on Friday, November 17.


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