Fulfilling a confirmation pledge, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Lisa P. Jackson is revisiting the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate rocket fuel pollution in the nation’s drinking water.
Jackson’s move, announced Wednesday, is being welcomed by the environmental community and children’s health advocates. Perchlorate, a major component of rocket and missile propellants and many explosives, is a potent thyroid toxin known to disrupt brain and neurological development. For that reason, scientists and medical experts strongly urge that fetal and neonatal exposures to the chemical be prevented.
Defense and aerospace contractors are certain to fight any federal effort to order up perchlorate clean-ups, whose costs could run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. During the Cold War, tons of improperly stored rocket fuel seeped into ground waters around rocket and missile test sites and chemical manufacturing and storage facilities.
As David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones reported last February, companies who make or use perchlorates have hired a “bevy of lobbyists,” among them Democrats such as former Nevada senator Richard Bryan, once a leading advocate for safe drinking water, to fend off stringent EPA measures.
MoJo updates its coverage this week by reporting that “lobbyists for perchlorate firms are well-funded and skillful — and those with Democratic ties, like Bryan, will arguably wield more influence in Obama’s Washington than they did during the era of Republican dominance. They’ll doubtless be working hard behind the scenes to head off the EPA’s new regulatory enthusiasm.”
Rocket fuel pollution in water and soil is a bigger problem than you might think. In recent years, EPA has detected perchlorates in public water systems in 28 states and territories. Environmental Working Group’s own tests have identified significant perchlorate contamination in nearly a fifth of lettuce samples grown in Southern California and Arizona.
During the Bush administration, EWG and other environmental health advocates, including the agency’s own Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, mounted futile efforts to persuade EPA leaders to crack down on perchlorate pollution.
Last November, EPA scientist Melanie A Marty, chair of the 28-member children’s health advisory panel, which works closely with the EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection, dispatched an unusually sharply-worded public letter to then EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson recommending a strict, legally-enforceable limit for perchlorate in drinking water.