A top Environmental Protection Agency official told a Senate committee Tuesday that there “is a distinct possibility” that the agency will not limit the amount of perchlorate, an ingredient of solid rocket fuel, that is allowable in drinking water.
State officials and water suppliers across the U.S. have been waiting for the EPA to set a standard for several years because perchlorate has contaminated the water supplies of at least 11 million people. Last year California, impatient with EPA’s indecision, set its own standard.
Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, said the EPA will decide by the end of the year whether to regulate perchlorate. Scientific studies have shown that the chemical blocks iodide and suppresses thyroid hormones, which are necessary for the normal brain development of a fetus or infant.
“We know that perchlorate can have an adverse effect and we’re concerned about that,” Grumbles told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the committee, told Grumbles that she heard from EPA staffers that there is a strong likelihood that the agency will decide against setting any standard for perchlorate.
In response, Grumbles said that is “a distinct possibility.”
Boxer reacted angrily, saying the EPA is leaving Congress with little choice but to act on its own. She has introduced two bills that would order the testing of water supplies for perchlorate and require the EPA to set a standard within one year, based on scientific evidence showing what levels can cause harm to fetuses.
“Congress will not sit idle while EPA fails to adequately protect our children. We must step in to require action that will ensure that our children and families can turn on their taps and be assured that what comes out is safe to drink,” Boxer said.
Much of the water contamination comes from military bases and aerospace plants, as well as fireworks companies.