Senator Boxer's letter to FDA

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, April 28, 2003

Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D.
Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, Maryland 20857

Dear Commissioner McClellan:

I am writing to ask you to launch an immediate investigation in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) into the amounts and sources of perchlorate contamination in food grown within the United States.

According to a report released by the Environmental Working Group today, approximately 1 in 5 lettuce samples contained detectable levels of perchlorate, and an average serving of lettuce contained 4 times more perchlorate than EPA proposed as safe in drinking water in January 2002. The report also concludes that more than 1.6 million women each day are exceeding the EPA’s proposed reference dose for perchlorate from eating lettuce. This is particularly alarming as it does not include perchlorate exposure from other sources, including drinking water and other foods. We need to know if our food is contaminated with this toxic substance and from where this contamination is emanating.

Perchlorate, an explosive salt widely used as an oxidizer for solid rocket fuel, ammunition and fireworks, has been found to contaminate water supplies in 19 states and may be present in the 36 states where rocket fuel was made. Up to ten million Californians are currently drinking perchlorate-contaminated water, and we are continually discovering more contaminated drinking water sources. Even at low concentrations, perchlorate poses a serious threat to human health, especially for pregnant women and developing babies. Perchlorate is a hormone disruptor that can depress thyroid function, cause thyroid tumors, and disrupt physical and intellectual development in fetuses and newborn babies, resulting in delayed development, decreased learning capacity, and physical and mental retardation.

Because of the severity of perchlorate’s effects on public health and because of the extent of perchlorate contamination already discovered and suspected, I urge you to immediately investigate the amounts and sources of perchlorate contamination in food grown within the United States. I also urge that you consult with EPA and USDA in undertaking this investigation.

The federal government is already woefully behind in addressing perchlorate contamination in drinking water. Despite more than a decade of studying perchlorate, EPA has delayed issuing a safe drinking water standard until at least 2006. This delay is unacceptable. We cannot exacerbate the problem by ignoring the possible contamination of our food.

I consider this an urgent matter and ask that you respond within a week. Please contact Sandra Schubert of my staff about your plans.



Barbara Boxer
United States Senate