WASHINGTON – A recent study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that three quarters of 285 commonly consumed foods and beverages are contaminated with perchlorate, a toxic rocket fuel ingredient. According to the study, every day, the average two-year-old is exposed to more than half of the EPA “safe” dose (RfD) of perchlorate from food alone. This is bad news for children in communities in 28 states who also are exposed to perchlorate through contaminated tap water. Very low levels of perchlorate in tap water will cause the average two year old to exceed EPA’s safe exposure level.
Two-year-olds are particularly vulnerable because they eat and drink substantial amounts of food and water relative to their small size. An Environmental Working Group analysis of FDA data found that perchlorate levels as low as 4 parts per billion (ppb) in tap water could expose the average two-year-old to an unsafe dose of the rocket fuel contaminant every single day.
FDA’s finding of high food exposures for small children makes clean up of perchlorate-contaminated water imperative. Perchlorate in tap water can be controlled through filtration and clean up. Perchlorate in food is harder to manage because the source of contamination is not clear, although contaminated irrigation water is one known source where levels could be reduced.
“Every final or proposed water standard for perchlorate fails to provide adequate protection for children,” said Dr. Anila Jacob, MD, a senior scientist at EWG. “An average two-year-old drinking water with 4 ppb perchlorate will exceed the EPA’s safe dose. New Jersey has set a standard at 5 ppb, California is at 6 ppb, and the EPA has issued a clean up standard of 24 ppb, nowhere near a level protective of children.”
Not only do children have higher exposures to perchlorate when compared with adults, they are also particularly susceptible to its adverse effects. Perchlorate acts by inhibiting the thyroid gland from taking up iodine from the circulation. Since iodine is the building block for thyroid hormone, perchlorate exposure can result in decreased thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland. Adequate circulating levels of thyroid hormones are critical to maintaining normal growth and brain development during childhood.
“Pervasive perchlorate contamination of food underscores the need for a tough national drinking water standard to protect children. We need to take every action we can to minimize perchlorate exposures, and tough tap water standards are the logical first step. If we fail to act, we will needlessly expose millions of children to dangerous levels of this potent toxic compound,” said Dr. Anila Jacob, MD – a Senior Scientist with EWG.
A recent report from the US Government Accountability Office finds that 28 states have communities in which perchlorate contaminates drinking water supplies at levels of 4 ppb or higher.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s analysis of the FDA study is available online at https://www.ewg.org/node/25875