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Both USEPA and the Department of Defense (DOD) oppose a recommendation from the General Accountability Office (GAO) that U.S. EPA establish a formal system for tracking the detection of perchlorate contamination and cleanup activities, GAO notes in a new report to Congress.
Prepared for Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, in his capacity as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, the GAO report found that perchlorate has been detected in water and soil at levels of at least 4 micrograms/L at some 400 sites in 35 states and two territories, mostly in Texas and California.
About one-third of those sites are drinking water systems, where levels ranged as high as 420 micrograms/L. Only 14 of the systems exceeded EPA's recently established drinking water equivalency level of 24.5 micrograms/L, GAO reports, adding that none of those sites have been cleaned up.
GAO further reported that while DOD has sampled for and cleaned up perchlorate contamination in some locations when required by laws or regulations, it "has been reluctant to sample on or near active installations under other circumstances."
GAO also noted that of the 400 known contamination sites, cleanup is planned or under way at only 51 of them to date. GAO, however, concludes that the lack of federal and state requirements to routinely report perchlorate findings means "a greater number of contaminated sites...may already exist."
While EPA agreed with GAO's factual findings, GAO said the agency rejected its recommendation to formally track detections and cleanups, countering that it had sufficient data on perchlorate occurrence and that implementing such a system "would require additional resources or the redirection of resources from other activities."
GAO, however, said it believes EPA "was misconstruing the extent of work necessary" to implement the kind of tracking system GAO has in mind. Citing current ad hoc efforts by agency regions to gather perchlorate information, GAO concludes that, "We are not proposing an elaborate new system but instead believe the EPA needs to work toward a more structured process than what is currently in place to track and monitor perchlorate routinely."
In addition to rejecting GAO's recommended tracking system, DOD also took issue with some of GAO's factual findings regarding the department's perchlorate activities, reports GAO, noting that it "disagrees with DOD's position." DOD particularly defended its monitoring policy as providing an "affirmative obligation" to sample, while GAO found that "DOD has used its policy to limit testing for perchlorate that environment regulators believed was necessary."