The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

EPA Ignores Toxic Rocket Fuel Chemical in Communities and Drinking Water Supplies

Toxic Chemical Interferes With Infant Brain Development


Under pressure from the White House and the Pentagon, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to set cleanup or safety standards for a toxic rocket fuel chemical that contaminates drinking water supplies for millions of Americans.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported EPA's decision, which has not yet been publicly announced. It is a victory for defense contractors who have been fighting to avoid expensive clean-up operations at rocket launch sites and other military facilities where improper disposal of perchlorate has polluted groundwater. Scientists have linked perchlorate to thyroid problems that could impair the development of fetuses, infants and young children.

"The EPA had an opportunity to set a stringent drinking water standard for this toxic chemical that could have benefited millions of Americans, especially children," said Dr. Anila Jacob, MD, MPH, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. "Instead, the agency has chosen to ignore the science and listen to White House and Pentagon officials who care more about protecting defense industry profits than the health of America's children."

The disclosure that EPA will not take action against perchlorate contamination in water comes as an important new study by University of Texas researchers confirms that breast-feeding infants are routinely exposed to levels of perchlorate in breast milk that exceed the EPA "safe" dose. This finding is troubling because perchlorate interferes with the body's ability to produce thyroid hormones, and inadequate levels of thyroid hormones interfere with normal brain development and growth.

Texas researchers found that nursing mothers secrete more of the toxic chemical into their breast milk than iodine, the building block of thyroid hormones. For developing children, the process is doubly dangerous: not only are breast-feeding babies getting unsafe doses of perchlorate, they are being denied iodine that could help offset some of the toxic chemical's effects.

EPA has been under pressure from the Pentagon to overlook the potential health threats posed by perchlorate in order to help defense contractors avoid spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up contaminated sites.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found perchlorate in the urine of all 2,820 people tested. The public health agency also found that one-third of American women whose iodine levels are on the low side and who had perchlorate in their urine demonstrated significant decreases in thyroid hormone levels.

Jacob noted that breast milk is by far the healthiest food for infants, and mothers should continue to breast-feed their babies. However, the perchlorate levels found in breast milk by the Texas study and others are alarming.

The Environmental Working Group is a community 30 million strong, working to protect our environmental health by changing industry standards.

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