EPA Decides Against Tap Water Regulation For Chemical Linked To Fetal Brain Damage

Perchlorate is a chemical used in fireworks, road flares, explosives, and rocket fuel that’s also found in small amounts throughout the natural environment. Image credit: PaniYani/Shutterstock.com

Perchlorate, an environmental contaminant linked to brain damage in infants and thyroid problems, will continue to flow through US tap water without any regulation, according to an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On Thursday March 31, the EPA said it plans to maintain a Trump-era decision to not regulate or monitor levels of perchlorate in drinking water. They claim this decision is in line with the latest science on the safety of perchlorate. 

Many scientists, however, disagree. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the Trump-era EPA used a “deeply flawed analysis” to identify a safe level of perchlorate that’s ten or more times higher than the health-based limits set by other authorities. Now, Biden’s EPA is set to follow this analysis, contending there's no need to monitor levels of the chemical in drinking water at a federal level. 

“The EPA’s failure to protect drinking water from widespread perchlorate contamination is unscientific, unlawful, and unconscionable,” Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director for Health at NRDC, said in a statement. “The Trump EPA gave perchlorate a pass; it was a bad decision then, and it’s a bad decision now. Tap water across America will remain contaminated by this toxic chemical, which threatens the brain development of babies in the womb, infants, and young children at extremely low levels.” 

Perchlorate is a chemical used in fireworks, road flares, explosives, and rocket fuel that’s also found in small amounts throughout the natural environment. It’s even found on the surface of MarsThe chemical can enter surface and ground waters, eventually ending up in some drinking water and in some foods. It’s known to be especially prevalent in the natural environment of arid states in the Southwest US.

Its effects on human health are not clearly established, but it’s known that exposure to high dosages of the chemical can interfere with iodide uptake into the thyroid gland, potentially leading to a reduction in the production of thyroid hormone. This impact of thyroid hormone synthesis may, in turn, have an effect on pregnant women and result in impaired fetal brain development. Exposure to high levels of the chemical in the womb has even been linked to lower IQ in later life. 

Massachusetts and California have previously taken matters into their own hands and decided to regulate levels of perchlorate in drinking water at a state level. The EPA cites these two states as an example of why no national standard is needed, but it’s not known whether any other states have plans to take action. 

For now, most of the US population will continue to be left in the dark about levels of this potentially dangerous chemical coming out of their taps. 

“By refusing to establish a standard or water testing requirements, the EPA decision will also keep members of the public in the dark, without even basic information about whether they are being exposed to perchlorate,” said Olson.


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