May 07, 2008

Senate Hearing Puts Pressure on EPA to Develop Rocket Fuel Drinking Water Standard

EPA still weighing benefits of regulating percholate, a toxic rocket fuel ingredient, in drinking water

Percholate, a toxic rocket fuel ingredient, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states. In a May 6 Senate hearing, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official faced Democratic senators who argued that communities should not be responsible for the expense of removing the contaminant, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The official, Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water, said that EPA is aware of the widespread presence of percholate and its possible health risks, but is still determining how much good regulation of percholate in drinking water would do.

Percholate can interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, especially to fetuses. Grumbles promised a decision by the end of the year, the AP reported.

"Is there a meaningful opportunity to reduce risk if we issue a new national regulation on perchlorate? We've been spending a lot of time on that, Madam Chairman," Grumbles told Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

"I understand your frustration in how long the process is taking but we believe it's important to do the work," Grumbles said.

"EPA is trying to shunt the scientists to the back, put the DOD contractors to the front," Boxer said. "We want to see action by the scientists. We want to see a standard set."

Grumbles said that in place of a regulation, the EPA may issue a public health advisory, meant to simply provide information. He told reporters after the hearing that the option to regulate perchlorate was also still on the table, the AP reported.

According to a report last week by congressional investigators, most perchlorate contamination is a result of Defense Department activities, and the Pentagon could face vast cleanup costs if a national drinking water standard is set for the contaminant, the AP reported.

In absence of a drinking water standard from the EPA, states enacted their own. California adopted a drinking water standard of 6 parts per billion in 2007, while Massachusetts has a drinking water standard of 2 parts per billion.

Boxer plans to bring legislation to a committee vote in June that would require an EPA drinking water standard on percholate. Committee Republicans said the EPA should be allowed to finish its work and that Congress should stand back, the AP reported.