The Environmental Protection Agency has decided this week to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals that can be allowed in drinkable water.
The EPA will begin setting standards on 17 chemicals that have been known to get into water supplies and cause problems with a person’s health. One of the chemicals specifically being targeted is perchlorate, which has been found to harm the thyroid gland especially in fetuses and infants. The thyroid gland is essential for growth and development and if it is affected a person can have lower IQs and developmental delays.
Perchlorate not only occurs in nature but also is manmade and is used in rocket fuel, explosives and fireworks. It has been found in hundreds of public water wells throughout the country but it mostly has been found in California – the most heavily affected areas in the state being in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and Sacramento counties, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
One of the most recent cases of perchlorate contamination came in November when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Barstow, a city in San Bernardino County, after tests showed the city’s water had high levels of the rocket fuel additive. The contamination affected more than 40,000 people and caused cafes, hotels and restaurants to close. Residents also were told to avoid drinking and cooking with water because boiling, freezing or filtering the water would not have eliminated the perchlorate – boiling it actually increases the chemical’s concentration because it does not evaporate.
The EPA’s decision to regulate how much of a toxic chemical can be found in the water also comes after the Government Accountability Office released a study at the end of 2010 showing perchlorate contamination was found at 70 percent of Defense Department facilities. In the case of Barstow’s contaminated water, perchlorate was found at 100 parts per billion – under California law, perchlorate levels must be below six parts per billion.
“[The perchlorate decision] is about protecting the health of between 5 [million] and 17 million Americans that are exposed to perchlorate in the water they drink,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in remarks to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
After the EPA made its announcement both California Democratic senators released statements.
“I applaud EPA’s decision to regulate perchlorate in drinking water, which has been found at dangerous levels nationwide,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. “California set a maximum contaminant load for perchlorate in 2007, and EPA’s decision to regulate perchlorate nationally will focus available resources on developing more efficient water treatment methodologies. Americans simply shouldn’t have to worry that the water they drink and cook with will make them sick.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer also said the EPA’s decision was good and that she was glad the government was finally acting “to protect our families from perchlorate.”
“Exposure to perchlorate in drinking water is dangerous, especially for pregnant women, infants and children,” she said.
Republicans, though, were not as receptive of the policy change. President George W. Bush actually went against the advice of his administration’s own EPA scientists and refused to regulate perchlorate. One senior Republican Senate staffer was quoted in the Los Angeles Times disputing the danger perchlorate and the other chemicals cause.
“[The] EPA has changed its position,” the staffer said. “That’s not good policy. Nothing new is being presented as far as the science goes.”
Of course lobbyists on both sides of the issue also are pressuring the EPA, with opponents of the policy reversal saying the chemicals do not need to be regulated and environmental groups suggesting the EPA should set a stand of one part per billion, according to an article in the Washington Post. Last month California adopted a “public health goal,” to reduce the state’s current standard of six parts per billion, and the only other state to have a perchlorate drinking water standard is Massachusetts, at two parts per billion, according to the Post article.
While the EPA has said it would begin taking the necessary steps to reduce the amount of those 17 chemicals found in food and water, it said it would take about two years to propose a regulation specifically for perchlorate. As of now what the federal limits would be have yet to be decided.
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