For Immediate Release
EWG Public Affairs, (202) 667-6982
CDC: Rocket Fuel Chemical in Most Powdered Infant Formula
Infants Exposed to Unsafe Levels of Thyroid Toxin
WASHINGTON - Researchers
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found
that 15 brands of powdered infant formula are contaminated with
perchlorate, a rocket fuel component detected in drinking water in 28
states and territories. The two most contaminated brands, made from
cow's milk, accounted for 87 percent of the U.S. powdered formula
market in 2000, the scientists said.
The CDC findings, published in the March 2009 edition of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology <http://www.nature.com/jes/
, raise new concerns about perchlorate pollution, a legacy of Cold War
rocket and missile tests. Studies have established that the chemical is
a potent thyroid toxin that may interfere with fetal and infant brain
The CDC study said that reconstituting cow's milk/lactose formula with
water contaminated with perchlorate at just 4 parts per billion (ppb)
would cause 54 percent of the infants consuming the mix to exceed the
so-called "safe" dose set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Many scientists contend that the EPA "safe" level is too high to
protect public health.
"Perchlorate contamination of drinking water is a very serious concern,
particularly for infants," said Anila Jacob, M.D., M.P.H., a senior
scientist with Environmental Working Group (EWG). "As this
unprecedented study demonstrates, infants fed cow's milk- based
powdered formula could be exposed to perchlorate from two sources - tap
water and formula. That suggests that millions of American babies are
potentially at risk."
Dr. Jacob's analysis of the CDC study can be found at the following link:
While these findings are of concern, the CDC scientists also noted that
FDA requires infant formula to be supplemented with iodine, a nutrient
that can counteract the negative effects of perchlorate on the thyroid
gland. The range of required iodine concentrations in formula is
between 5 and 75 micrograms per 100kcal of energy.
Iodine supplements at higher levels may offer some protection from the toxic effects of perchlorate.
But the CDC scientists estimated that those brands that contain only
the minimum iodine concentration of 5 micrograms would leave infants
iodine-deficient and thus more vulnerable to the toxic effects of
perchlorate. A scenario in which formula contained 40 micrograms of
iodine (per 100kcal of energy) would offer more protection for infants,
but the scientists stressed that even adequate iodine intake among
formula-fed infants is not guaranteed to prevent "perchlorate-induced
These findings underscore the need for the EPA to scrap Bush era
perchlorate policies that shielded defense contractors and other big
polluters from the costs of cleaning up perchlorate-contaminated water
by setting a legally enforceable safe drinking water level that
protects pregnant women, infants and others who are most vulnerable to
the effects of this harmful chemical.
Last fall, EPA officials declared that perchlorate in drinking water
posed no threat to most Americans and did not need to be regulated as a
water pollutant. EPA's decision was widely viewed as a major victory
for the Pentagon and the defense and aerospace industries unwilling to
mount a nationwide perchlorate cleanup estimated to cost hundreds of
millions of dollars.
In response to criticisms from scientists, health professionals and
consumer advocates, on January 8, EPA issued a non-binding "health
advisory" on perchlorate and asked the National Academy of Sciences to
review the issue.
EWG dismissed EPA's action as "nothing more than an effort to dodge the
issue and buy time for the defense, aerospace and chemical industries."
Years of federal inaction have prompted some states to set their own
mandatory limits for perchlorate in drinking water: California, at 6
ppb and Massachusetts at 2 ppb. While recent scientific research has
shown these standards to be too weak to protect public health
adequately, they are far more stringent than EPA's action in January.
At her confirmation hearing, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson pledged
that she would act "immediately" to reduce perchlorate contamination in
Since then, EWG has called on Jackson to fulfill that promise, but so far the agency has not made public a plan of action.
The new CDC study provides some of the strongest evidence yet that a
legally enforceable safe drinking water level for perchlorate should be
a priority for the Obama administration.
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