The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday defied a court-ordered consent decree requiring the agency to issue a drinking water standard for the widespread contaminant perchlorate.
Studies show the chemical, an endocrine disruptor that is widely used in rocket fuel and munitions, and found in as many as 16 million Americans’ tap water, poses threats to the brain development of fetuses and young infants.
To explain why it is revoking its previous finding, the EPA now contends its 2008 health advisory for perchlorate in drinking water is far more protective of health than needed.
The agency’s 2008 health advisory of 15 ppb health advisory was based on a 2005 National Academy of Sciences study. Now, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler believes a level of 56 ppb would be safe, and that perhaps even 90 ppb would be okay.
The EPA has already admitted that a standard of 56 ppb would allow certain kids exposed to perchlorate in drinking water at above this level to have an average IQ loss of two points.
Massachusetts and California have set their own drinking water standards for percholate of 2 ppb to 6 ppb, respectively, because of inaction at the federal level.
The EPA now cites the reduction in levels of tap water contamination in those two states as a reason that no national standard is needed, refusing to address the widespread contamination in other states.
Perchlolate is the first drinking water contaminant that EPA has proposed to regulate in nearly 24 years under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 for setting new standards for unregulated contaminants.
The Obama EPA had found in 2011 that a perchlorate drinking water standard was needed to protect health, especially that of vulnerable fetuses and young children. This finding triggered a legal duty to regulate perchlorate.
When EPA was slow to issue standards after that finding, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the agency.
A federal judge hearing the case said that the EPA needed “a fire lit under them” to address the urgent problem, and issued a ruing ordering the EPA had a duty to take action on perchlorate.
In response, the agency agreed in a court-approved consent decree to propose a perchlorate drinking water standard by October 2018 and to finalize it by late 2019. The EPA sought extensions, citing the need for more study, and secured a June deadline.
“Today’s decision is illegal, unscientific, and unconscionable,” said NRDC’s Erik Olson. “The EPA is threatening the health of pregnant moms and young children with toxic chemicals in their drinking water at levels that literally can cause loss of IQ points. Is this what the Environmental Protection Agency has come to?”