Perchlorate Contaminates Southwest Water Supplies

The Southwest region of the United States is dealing with perchlorate in its drinking water supplies, reported the Chicago Tribune. Although many in the water treatment industry already are aware of this, the article was a great avenue to raise awareness among the public.

Perchlorate pollutes the lower part of the Colorado River, which has forced hundreds of wells to be shut down in the area. The Colorado River serves as a main water supply to 20 million people in the Southwest. Officials continue to debate exactly how much risk is involved with the contamination.

Many lawsuits have been brought against the companies that have been responsible for the contamination. Many individuals have suffered from tumors and cysts.(1) Perchlorate interferes with iodide uptake into the thyroid gland. Because iodide is an essential component of thyroid hormones, perchlorate disrupts how the thyroid functions. In adults, the thyroid helps to regulate metabolism. In children, the thyroid plays a major role in proper development in addition to metabolism. Impairment of thyroid function in expectant mothers may impact the fetus and newborn and result in effects including changes in behavior, delayed development and decreased learning capability. Changes in thyroid hormone levels may also result in thyroid gland tumors. (2)

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical. Most of the perchlorate manufactured in the United States is used as the primary ingredient of solid rocket propellant. Wastes from the manufacture and improper disposal of perchlorate-containing chemicals are increasingly being discovered in soil and water. In addition to fuel, perchlorate contamination has been tied to plants that made munitions, fireworks and charges that deploy airbags, reported the Chicago Tribune.

The article also reported that the "single largest source of contamination is a former Kerr-McGee Corp. rocket fuel plant" in Nevada. Wastewater from the plant seeped into the ground where even today it continues to leach as much as 900 pounds of perchlorate a day into a wash that drains into the Colorado River.

Several types of treatment systems designed to reduce perchlorate concentrations are operating around the United States, reducing perchlorate to below the 4 ppb quantitation level. Biological treatment and ion (anion) exchange systems are among the technologies that are being used, with additional treatment technologies under development.(2)


1 Chicago Tribune. "Rocket Fuel Taints Water in Southwest," January 6, 2003.
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wendi King

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