EPA (Finally) Regulates Rocket Fuel in Tap Water

By LeeAnn Brown, EWG Press Associate Perchlorate, a common ingredient in rocket fuel and a potent thyroid toxin, will be regulated in drinking water, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced yesterday (Feb. 2).

The agency also said it would develop legal limits for a group of 16 other toxic chemicals found in drinking water. Currently, EPA regulates about 90 known water contaminants. A Long Time Coming Environmental Working Group has advocated federal regulation of perchlorate since its 2001 investigation of perchlorate contamination in California's drinking water. In 2009, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found perchlorate in 15 top-selling brands of infant formula, EWG urged the Obama administration to take action to regulate the chemical, which EPA estimates to be in the drinking water supplied to up to 17 million Americans. Ken Cook, president and co-founder of EWG, welcomed EPA's increasing efforts to safeguard our drinking water:

"Since there is no question about the low-dose toxicity of perchlorate, it's time for Americans to stop drinking rocket fuel. We will continue to be exposed to perchlorate in food from industrial, agricultural and natural sources, so there need to be robust safeguards to keep contamination in water from further endangering public health."

Federal scientists have documented health risks from the rocket fuel component for years. A 2006 CDC survey suggested that perchlorate affected thyroid hormone levels in women, but the Bush administration decided not to regulate it after strenuous lobbying by the defense and aerospace industries, which hoped to avoid expensive cleanups. In 2008, three EPA scientific advisory panels objected to that decision, which was reversed by yesterday's announcement. Taking action for cleaner drinking water Last month, California officials proposed to lower the state's public health goal for perchlorate in tap water from 6 parts per billion to 1 part per billion in order to take into account the greater vulnerability of infants. Perchlorate exposure can interfere with normal brain development, according to recent research. EPA's Jackson has made cleaning up drinking water a top priority for her agency. In an interview with CNN, Jackson said,

"The aim is to find solutions that meet the health and economic needs of communities across the country more effectively than the current approach."

A 2009 analysis by EWG of the nation's drinking water found 315 pollutants in water, 202 of which have no legal limit in tap water. Get EWG's history of perchlorate health effects research here.

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