More Rocket Fuel in Our Water

Shana Campbell Jones

Oct. 24, 2008

Earlier this month, and after six years of delay, EPA announced that it had decided not to regulate perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel and munitions that has leached into water supplies in various parts of the country, often near military bases. As it happened, the announcement came just a few days before the release of a new study on the subject that demonstrates that EPA’s lack of action may be even more disastrous than environmentalists and children’s health advocates previously thought.


Perchlorate blocks iodine “uptake” to the thyroid gland, thus interfering with the critical role iodine plays in the thyroid’s work, which includes controlling the burning of energy, the body’s sensitivity to hormones, protein production in the body and more. Compromised thyroid function in infants and children can result in behavioral problems and lower I.Q.


The study, released October 17, is from scientists at Texas Tech and the University of Texas at Arlington, and it asked this question: does perchlorate inhibit iodide transport to breastmilk? The study then compared nursing mothers’ daily intake of iodine and perchlorate with the concentrations of each chemical that ultimately ended up in their breastmilk. This is the first study of its kind to ask what levels of perchlorate and iodine actually get into breastmilk, and the results were startling. Researchers found that a higher proportion of perchlorate (about 56 percent) entered the breastmilk than iodine (about 21 percent). The study concludes it is “obvious that perchlorate is excreted to a much greater degree in milk than is iodine.”


So what does this mean? It strongly suggests, as the study concluded, that perchlorate inhibits the transport of iodine into milk to a significant extent. Imagine that a mother drank one glass of iodine and one glass of perchlorate. Only 21 percent of the iodine, which her baby needs, is being passed to her infant via breast milk. But 56 percent of the perchlorate is being passed on to her infant. The bulk of perchlorate finds its way into milk, but the bulk of the iodine doesn’t. Disturbingly, the study also found that “the majority of infants in our study ingested perchlorate at a level that exceeds the National Academies of Science reference dose.” Once ingested, the high levels of perchlorate will work to block the baby's thyroid from putting the already reduced levels of iodine to work.


EPA’s decision was controversial for several other reasons, even before this latest study. First, the White House apparently worked overtime to scrub the scientific data in EPA’s “Preliminary Regulatory Determination for Perchlorate.”  The Washington Post reported that, “White House officials had extensively edited the EPA's perchlorate rule-making documentation to remove scientific data highlighting some of the risks associated with the chemical, which has been found in water in 35 states.”  Second, to avoid regulating, EPA had to fix the maximum safe consumption of perchlorate at a level 15 times higher than it had suggested in 2002.


As CPR President Rena Steinzor pointed out in her book, Mother Earth, Uncle Sam: How Pollution and Hollow Government Hurt Our Kids, “perchlorate is an example of government paralyzing itself by short-changing scientific research, precluding legal action, and making accurate cost estimates impossible.” Meanwhile, while EPA refuses to act, a new study shows that U.S. infants are ingesting perchlorate at rate that is proportionally three times higher than the rate of much-needed iodine. More rocket fuel anyone?


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