EPA decides against limiting perchlorate in drinking water

The Biden administration said Thursday that it will support the Trump-era decision and will not restrict drinking water from perchlorate, a contaminant that has been linked to brain damage in infants.

The announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency shocked public health advocates denouncing the Trump administration in 2020 for choosing not to regulate perchlorate. The chemical is a component of rocket fuel, ammunition, and explosives. Exposure can harm developing fetuses and children and cause a significant decrease in IQ in newborns.

The Trump administration found that perchlorate did not meet the criteria for regulation because it did not appear in drinking water “as frequently and at levels of public health concern.” Activists at the time accused the EPA of ignoring the science.

After President Biden took office, the agency launched a review of the decision and endorsed it Thursday, saying it was “backed by the best available peer-reviewed science.”

The EPA said it would take other measures, such as creating new monitoring tools and doing more to clean up contaminated sites, “to ensure that public health is protected from perchlorate in drinking water.”

The agency said in a statement that it “will continue to consider new information about the health effects and occurrence of perchlorate.” The Environmental Protection Agency said its decision does not affect any government standards for the chemical. For example, California and Massachusetts have set their own limits for perchlorate in drinking water.

Eric D. said:

“We are very disappointed and believe that it is unscientific and illegal not to regulate this pollutant present in the drinking water of millions of people,” he said. “They don’t follow the best science.”

Perchlorate can occur naturally, but high concentrations have been found in at least 26 states, often near military installations where it has been used as an additive in rocket fuel, making the propellant more reliable. Research has shown that by interfering with the thyroid’s uptake of iodine, perchlorate can hinder the production of hormones essential for the growth of fetuses, infants, and children.

Bill Romanelli, a spokesman for the Perchlorate Information Office, an alliance funded by airline contractors including Aerojet Rockettin, American Pacific Corporation and Lockheed Martin, praised the Biden administration.

“The EPA’s decision today that perchlorate does not merit additional federal regulation is based on the best available scientific information, ensures protection of public health and the environment, and ensures access to clean water,” Mr. Romanelli wrote in a statement.

He called perchlorate “one of the most well-studied environmental chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency has ever evaluated.” He said peer-reviewed studies have found the chemical does not occur as frequently and at a level in public water systems as to cause concern.

The battle over perchlorate dates back to the early 2000s, when the administration of President George W. Bush decided not to organize it.

The Obama administration reversed this decision, issuing a finding in 2011 that perchlorate in drinking water poses a serious health risk to up to 16 million people in the United States. It issued a recommendation stating that 15 micrograms per liter is the highest concentration of perchlorate in water that more sensitive populations, such as pregnant women, should take.

But the Department of Defense and military contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman made ferocious efforts to disrupt controls, and the fighting continued.

The Trump administration in 2020 reversed Obama’s decision and also scrapped the health finding, saying it was “not in the public interest” to regulate pollutants.

Environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the deregulation decision, but suspended their lawsuit after President Biden’s inauguration in 2021.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which told the agency that perchlorate can cause a significant lower IQ in newborns and urged the “strongest limits possible” for the pollutant, declined to comment Thursday.

Mr. Olson said litigation against the EPA will now resume with the goal of forcing the agency to enforce standards for perchlorate.

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