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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

EPA To Develop Regulation For Perchlorate

And Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water

U.S. Environmental Protection today announced the agency’s decision to move forward with the development of a regulation for perchlorate to protect Americans from any potential health impacts, while also continuing to take steps to ensure the quality of the water they drink. The decision to undertake a first-ever national standard for perchlorate reverses a decision made by the previous administration and comes after Administrator Jackson ordered EPA scientists to undertake a thorough review of the emerging science of perchlorate.

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing on the issue today.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified at the hearing.

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical, and scientific research indicates that it may impact the normal function of the thyroid, which produces important developmental hormones. Thyroid hormones are critical to the normal development and growth of fetuses, infants and children. Based on this potential concern, EPA will move forward with proposing a formal rule. This process will include receiving input from key stakeholders as well as submitting any formal rule to a public comment process.

In a separate action, the agency is also moving towards establishing a drinking water standard to address a group of up to 16 toxic chemicals that may pose risks to human health. As part of the Drinking Water Strategy laid out by Administrator Jackson in 2010, EPA committed to addressing contaminants as a group rather than one at a time so that enhancement of drinking water protection can be achieved cost effectively. Today’s action delivers on the promise to strengthen public health protection from contaminants in drinking water.

Action on Perchlorate:

Scientific research indicates that perchlorate may disrupt the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones that are critical to developing fetuses and infants. Monitoring data show more than 4 percent of public water systems have detected perchlorate and between 5 million and 17 million people may be served drinking water containing perchlorate. The science that has led to this decision has been peer reviewed by independent scientists and public health experts including the National Academy of Sciences. Perchlorate is both a naturally-occurring and man-made chemical that is used in the manufacture of rocket fuel, fireworks, flares and explosives, and may be present in bleach and in some fertilizers. This decision reverses a 2008 preliminary determination by the previous administration, and considers input from almost 39,000 public comments.

EPA will continue to evaluate the science on perchlorate health effects and occurrence in public water systems. The agency will also now begin to evaluate the feasibility and affordability of treatment technologies to remove perchlorate and will examine the costs and benefits of potential standards.

More information on perchlorate

Action on Drinking Water Strategy:

EPA will also be developing one regulation covering up to 16 chemicals that may cause cancer. This group of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals such as industrial solvents, includes trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) as well as other regulated and some unregulated contaminants that are discharged from industrial operations. The VOC standard will be developed as part of EPA’s new strategy for drinking water, announced by the administrator in March 2010. A key principle of the strategy is to address contaminants as groups rather than individually in order to provide public health protections more quickly and also allow utilities to more effectively and efficiently plan for improvements.

More information on drinking water strategy:

Administrator Jackson’s 2010 Speech on EPA’s New Drinking Water Strategy

EPA also held a stakeholder briefing today on the Decision to Regulate Perchlorate and Other Toxic Contaminants in Drinking Water. The purpose of the call was to give stakeholders a chance to ask questions about EPA’s decision to develop a regulation for perchlorate that will ensure the quality of the water Americans drink. (EPA)

Background:

The EPA placed perchlorate on its contaminant candidate list in 1998. The following year, the EPA began requiring drinking water monitoring for perchlorate and, in 2002, issued a draft assessment of perchlorate. Titled Perchlorate Environmental Contamination: Toxicological Review and Risk Characterization, the report recommended a 1 ppb safety standard for perchlorate in drinking water – in other words, a level four times more restrictive than the current California action level. Though it has gone through extensive peer review, the EPA report has not yet been publicly released.

There is no national drinking water regulation for perchlorate, and it appears unlikely that there will be one anytime soon. On July 15, 2003, the U.S. EPA announced that it would not formulate safety standards for perchlorate or any of the other chemicals on its “contaminant candidate list.” This means that perchlorate will not come up for review again for at least another three to five years, unless “emergency” procedures are followed to expedite the process.

In March 2003, the White House Office of Management and Budget referred perchlorate to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for six to 18 months of review. The EPA banned public discussion of perchlorate by its employees until the NAS delivered its opinion. However, the federal EPA and DOD still widely differ in their assessments of what level of perchlorate is safe in drinking water. Today's action reactivates the regulatory process.(Draft Perchlorate Summary Report, Santa Ana River Watershed Area, California, 2003)

The National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) report released in 2005 (Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion (2005)) concluded that a higher exposure level to the toxic rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate than recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency is not harmful, could threaten the health of millions of American children. The NAS report recommended a level that is about 23 times higher than the one proposed by EPA and several states.

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