EPA MAKES THE RIGHT CALL ON PERCHLORATE
February 13, 2007
Last week the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing, Oversight of Recent EPA Decisions, in which one Senate Democrat made the assertion that the failure of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to list perchlorate on its second Unregulated Contaminated Monitoring Rule (UCMR) was an "environmental rollback." Dr. Gina Solomon, who testified at the hearing, echoed the sentiment that EPA’s decision has put the health of America’s at risk.
FACT: Perchlorate is not only an industrial product vital to our national defense industry and space exploration, but also a naturally occurring substance. It has been found in places where there is absolutely no possible connection nexus to the Department of Defense or NASA. It has also been found in our nation’s food supply. So it is critical that EPA fully understand how much exposure comes from drinking water and how much comes from natural and other sources before we set out creating an unfunded mandate on our local drinking water systems requiring them to spend scarce water resources chasing after a chemical over which mother nature has significant control.
To regulate an unregulated contaminant like perchlorate, EPA must find that:
*The contaminant may have an adverse effect on the health of persons;
*The contaminant is known to occur or there is a substantial likelihood that the contaminant will occur in public water systems with a frequency and at levels of public health concern, and
*In the sole judgment of the Administrator, regulation of such contaminant presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems.
According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), in a very conservative assessment, it recommended a safe level that is based upon a precursor to the adverse health effect which may occur at 24.5 ppb drinking water equivalent. The NAS chose this level to protect even the most sensitive members of our population from any effect of perchlorate. In order to determine if perchlorate is "known to occur" and "with a frequency and at levels of public health concern", EPA put perchlorate on the UCMR1 and gathered data from 3,722 drinking water systems. Only 4 percent found perchlorate and at an average concentration of 9.95 ppb, well below NAS’s health effects level of 24.5ppb.
EPA must now determine the relative contribution of perchlorate from other sources to determine if a drinking water standard will present "a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction."
CDC researchers however found perchlorate in trace amounts in all of the over 2,000 participants in its recent study. The 2,000 participants are representative sample of the nation. If perchlorate is only in 4 percent of the drinking water systems, yet in all 2,000 of these participants, it clearly is coming from somewhere other than drinking water.
As Dr. Solomon noted in her testimony:
"Research has also shown that perchlorate can concentrate in crops such as wheat, lettuce, alfalfa, and cucumbers...new data have shown perchlorate contamination to be widespread in store-bought fruit, vegetables, cow’s milk, beer and wine.When asked at the hearing about the allegation not to list perchlorate on the UCMR2 was a rollback, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson replied:
"If we had listed it, then we would have begun monitoring. That monitoring data would not have concluded until the year 2010. And I did not want to send any signal that we were going to wait until after 2010 to evaluate the science and make a decision as to whether a health advisory in MCL was appropriate."
Further, the American Water Works Association, whose membership includes the nation’s smallest drinking water utilities, stated in its comments on EPA’s proposal to include perchlorate on UCMR2
"With the UCMR2 monitoring being completed in 2010, this data would be too late for any potential perchlorate drinking water regulation that would likely be proposed in the next few years."
Listing perchlorate on the UCMR2 would have only served to delay the decision on whether or not to regulate perchlorate –clearly not the "rollback" some try to claim.