For Immediate Release: 
Monday, March 3, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif., March 3, 2003 — Environmental Working Group (EWG) applauded Sen. Barbara Boxer’s introduction today of a bill to set a national safety standard for rocket fuel waste in drinking water, and released exclusive up-to-date data on all known or suspected occurrences of the contaminant in hundreds of locations in 43 states. EWG also released an analysis of the latest scientific studies on the health risks of exposure to even low doses of perchlorate, arguing that the national drinking water standard should be no higher than one-tenth the EPA’s current recommendation.

More than 20 million Americans drink water from public and private sources known to be polluted with perchlorate. This figure includes customers of 81 contaminated water systems in California and all residents of California, Arizona and Nevada who get at least part of their drinking water from the perchlorate-tainted Colorado River.

But EWG’s analysis of the latest government data shows that perchlorate pollution is now known to be a serious problem nationwide:

  • Outside of California, perchlorate contamination has been confirmed by testing in more than 100 drinking water sources in 19 states.
  • Perchlorate contamination of soil or of groundwater sources, not all of which are currently used for drinking water, has been confirmed at more than 50 sites in 17 states.
  • Perchlorate is known to have been made, used or stored at more than 150 sites in 36 states. At some of these locations, water or soil contamination has already been detected by testing, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is certain that further tests would confirm contamination at all of the sites.
  • Perchlorate testing is urgently needed on at least 63 military sites in 32 states where rockets, missiles or munitions have been developed, produced, tested, stored, maintained, or disposed of. To date, testing is planned at only a few of these sites.

(Lists of all known or suspected sites of perchlorate contamination, plus detailed analysis of the health risks, are available at

“Sen. Boxer’s legislation is a long-overdue step toward addressing a toxic legacy of the Cold War that poses a health risk to Americans from California to Cape Cod,” said Bill Walker, West Coast vice president of EWG, which has studied perchlorate pollution since 2000. “Now the Pentagon and the defense industry must stop trying to block safety standards and cleanup of contaminated sites, and let the EPA do its job of protecting the public.”

Perchlorate is a powerful thyroid toxin that can affect the thyroid’s ability to take up the essential nutrient iodide and make thyroid hormone. Small disturbances in thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy can cause lowered IQ and larger disturbances can cause mental retardation, loss of hearing and speech, or deficits in motor skills for infants and children.

Legislation introduced today by Sen. Boxer, D-CA, would mandate that the federal government set a drinking water standard for perchlorate by July 1, 2004. California health officials are working toward setting a state drinking water standard sometime in 2004, but the EPA does not plan to set enforceable national standards before 2008, if then.

California’s current provisional drinking water standard, which is only advisory, is 2 to 6 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA’s current draft standard is equivalent to 1 ppb. Boxer’s legislation does not specify what the standard should be but mandates that it be set at a level that will protect the most sensitive populations. To protect children, EWG says the standard should be no higher than one-tenth the EPA’s recommendation, or 0.1 ppb.

Perchlorate is used in fireworks, safety flares, matches and car air bags, but 90 percent of it goes into solid rocket fuel for military missiles and the NASA space shuttle. National contamination data is still spotty, but extensive drinking water testing is now underway. Among known contaminated sites is the McGregor Naval Weapons Plant in central Texas, just a few miles from President Bush’s ranch.

Although the majority of known and suspected perchlorate-contaminated sites are operated by the military or contractors such Lockheed Martin, the Department of Defense and the aerospace and defense industry are stubbornly resisting the efforts of regulators to set adequate safety standards or clean up contaminated sites. Despite volumes of new evidence showing that very low doses are harmful to fetuses, infants and children, the Pentagon and its contractors argue that the risks of perchlorate should be assessed on the basis of a single study, funded by the defense industry, on short-term exposure of a handful of adult men and non-pregnant women.

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