Chemicals, Regulatory Developments

Perchlorate to Remain Unregulated in Drinking Water

On March 31, 2022, the EPA announced it will not regulate perchlorate in drinking water.

Perchlorate is a chemical commonly used in rocket fuel, fireworks, airbag initiators, matches, and signal flares.

The EPA announcement followed its review of a July 2020 determination with the same conclusion. The previous determination concluded “that perchlorate is not found in drinking water with a frequency and at levels of public health concern to support a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction through a national perchlorate drinking water regulation,” states an EPA news release.

“EPA is taking action and applying the right tools to support public health protections,” says EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “Funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a new monitoring study, financial and technical tools, and cleanup of contaminated sites will enhance protections and help ensure that communities can rely on clean and safe drinking water.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides the EPA with $11.7 billion through the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds supplemental and $4 billion in dedicated funding to address emerging contaminants. The EPA also announced it will support research to better understand perchlorate effects from fireworks displays and will launch a toolkit later this year to provide updated technical information about possible perchlorate contamination in source water to communities and drinking water systems.

“Additionally, cleaning up existing contamination and protecting drinking water sources from future contamination is central to the Agency’s approach for addressing perchlorate in drinking water,” the news release adds. “EPA is working with states to address perchlorate contamination under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund program. These cleanups have already reduced perchlorate levels at some sites. The agency will also consider proposed revisions to Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) standards for the open burning and open detonation of waste explosives and bulk propellants to reduce impacts of perchlorate to human health and the environment.”

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) previously sued the Trump administration to set a perchlorate limit because of the harmful health effects it has been linked to, which include inhibiting the uptake of iodine to the thyroid and “abnormal brain development in fetuses carried by iodine-deficient women,” reports c&en.

When the Trump administration decided not to regulate perchlorate in 2020, the NRDC issued a statement that said the EPA “defied a court-ordered consent decree requiring the agency to issue a drinking water standard for the widespread contaminant perchlorate.”

In response to the recent EPA decision to stick by the previous determination declining to regulate perchlorate, the NRDC condemned the decision.

“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 the NRDC, says. “The Trump EPA gave perchlorate a pass; it was a bad decision then, and it’s a bad decision now. … 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.”

The NRDC maintains that the Trump administration relied on a “flawed analysis” to select a “safe” perchlorate level. The selected level is 10 times higher than the level set by state authorities evaluating the same data, reports the NRDC.

“The agency relied primarily upon a two decade-old EPA snapshot of perchlorate levels in tap water and ignored other more recent data from USGS and others showing widespread perchlorate contamination,” the NRDC adds. “The Biden EPA has now embraced the Trump Administration’s (flawed) analysis.”