California study shows low levels of perchlorate affect infants

December 12, 2010 

A new study shows newborns in perchlorate contaminated areas have a 50% chance of having impaired thyroid function. Perchlorate is an oxidizer used in rocket propellant that attacks the thyroid. It has been detected in groundwater in Nohili, Kaua’i near the caves where munitions are stored. I think it was also detected in Schofield (Lihu’e). The levels detected in Hawai’i were below the federal limit (around 25 parts per billion) but above the California limit (5 ppb).   Needless to say, when asked about conducting further investigations and cleaning  up the contamination, the military dismissed the perchlorate contamination as insignificant. The Department of Defense has fought efforts to set tougher standards for perchlorate.  Here’s an excerpt from a Press Enterprise article on the California infant health study:

A new analysis by state scientists found that low levels of a rocket fuel chemical common in Inland drinking water supplies appear to be more harmful to newborn babies than previously believed, prompting calls for a tougher limit for tap water.

Scientists with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment examined records of blood samples drawn from the heels of 497,458 newborns in 1998 as part of a California disease-screening program.

The researchers found that the babies born in areas where tap water was contaminated with perchlorate — including babies in Riverside and San Bernardino — had a 50 percent chance of having a poorly performing thyroid gland, said Dr. Craig Steinmaus, lead author of the study published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.


EPA may still regulate perchlorate rocket fuel contamination

January 9, 2009 

According to an article in the Seattle PI, the EPA is revisiting its decision to not regulate perchlorate contamination in drinking water.  The article states:

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a second look at its decision not to limit the amount of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient allowed in drinking water.

Late last year, the agency proposed not setting a drinking water standard for perchlorate, which has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental problems in humans.

We know that perchlorate contamination has been found at Nohili, Pohakuloa and Makua.  The military is claiming that the levels are not high enough to pose a public health threat and are not cleaning up the toxic chemical.

New York Times article on the EPA Perchlorate report

January 1, 2009 

The New York Times

January 1, 2009

Error Seen in E.P.A. Report on Contaminant


The Environmental Protection Agency failed to follow its own guidelines and made a basic error in evaluating how a toxic contaminant in rocket fuel harms human health, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general.

The contaminant, perchlorate, has been found in significant levels in drinking water in at least 400 locations; scientific studies indicate that perchlorate blocks the necessary accumulation of iodide in human thyroid glands. Iodide insufficiencies in pregnant women are “associated with permanent mental deficits in the children,” the E.P.A. said.

Perchlorate can occur naturally, but high concentrations have been found near military installations where it was used in testing rockets and missiles.

The new report, issued late Tuesday, said the E.P.A. should not have looked at perchlorate individually, but should have followed its own guidance and examined the cumulative impact of perchlorate, other substances in the environment that inhibit the uptake of iodide by the thyroid and potentially inadequate supplies of iodide in American diets.

While the report criticized the agency’s analytical approach, it did not quarrel with two controversial regulatory actions involving perchlorate: one decision to set a safe dosage level four times greater than California’s, and a second not to require cleanup of perchlorate contamination.

In October, the E.P.A. announced that after “extensive review of scientific data related to the health effects of exposure to perchlorate from drinking water and other sources,” a rule setting nationwide maximum limits for the chemical in drinking water was unnecessary as it would do little to reduce risks to human health.

The inspector general’s report said “the single chemical approach and remedy underestimates the complexity of the public health issue.”

“The actual occurrence of an adverse outcome,” it continued, “is determined” by at least three other factors.

The E.P.A. has not completed its proposal on whether to set drinking water standards for perchlorate. Lisa P. Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be the agency’s administrator, will most likely decide what course to take on the issue.

Perchlorate: EPA’s Office of the Inspector General calls for cumulative risk assessment

January 1, 2009 

Perchlorate is a toxic chemical that blocks the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland, which leads to many types of metabolic disorders and problems with children whose mothers were exposed while pregnant. It is a chemical used in rockets and fertilizer. In the U.S. 90% of perchlorate contamination comes from the military and aerospace industries.

Perchlorate has been identified in the water in Nohili and in fish samples in Makua. It was also identified in Pohakuloa. The military has resisted attempts to set stricter standards for perchlorate, and the EPA has been weak in exercising its regulatory power in the face of the Pentagon’s opposition. Because the levels of perchlorate found in Hawai’i fall below the current lax standards, the military has declined to remediate the contamination.

This email from Lenny Siegel of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight provides a link to an EPA Office of Inspector General report that is somewhat critical of the EPA’s approach to perchlorate.  Hopefully, it will lead the EPA to consider cumulative risk assessment with regard to perchlorate and other factors that affect the thyroid.

Date: Wed, 31 Dec 2008 09:36:30 -0800
From: Lenny Siegel <>
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] PERCHLORATE: EPA’s Office of the Inspector General calls for cumulative risk assessment
To: Military Environmental Forum <>
On December 30, 2008 U. S. EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG)released its External Review Draft of its “Scientific Analysis of Perchlorate” report. The 213-page 2.5 MB PDF file may be downloaded from OIG is taking comments through March 10, 2009.

Thus far I have only read the cover letter, but the letter makes it clear that the Analysis’ authors find fault in the single-chemical risk assessment approach that EPA, as well as the National Academy of Sciences, have taken to develop acceptable risk levels for perchlorate exposure. OIG calls for a cumulative risk assessment that would consider other compounds that stress the thyroid’s ability to uptake iodide, such as thiocyanate, nitrate, and the lack of iodide.

This appears to be an appropriate response to the critique I wrote about what I call EPA’s “O.J.” draft decision not to develop a drinking water standard for perchlorate. I excerpt my November 24, 2008 letter below:

“… EPA states that Blount did not establish a causal relationship. That is, other factors – such as exposure to nitrates or thiocyanate, might be influencing thyroid function. It wrote, ‘It is also not known whether the association between perchlorate and thyroid hormone levels is causal or mediated by some other correlate of both.’

“That is, EPA recognizes that there is a major threat to public health, but it refuses to take action because there is a chance that the association between perchlorate and decreased thyroid function might be caused by another. unknown chemical compound. Yet EPA promises no action to track down and investigate that mysterious cause. This is unconscionable!

“This reminds me of O.J. Simpson’s criminal defense. He insisted that some third party or parties killed his wife and Ronald Goldman, but he showed little interest in finding the unknown perpetrators.

“If EPA were serious about protecting the health of America’s children, it would move forward with plans to develop a legal standard for perchlorate in drinking water. In the course of that effort, it should consider how other contaminants might contribute to the problem.”