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F.ood & H.ealth : Agri. & Environ. Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Perchlorates in drinking water more risky than thought
By Kathy Jones
Oct 11, 2006, 21:45

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A survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised concerns that even small amounts of perchlorate can interfere with normal thyroid function in women.

Perchlorate, a well-known toxic chemical, is extensively used in the defense industry as an oxidizer in solid rocket fuel. Although it can be found in nature, elevated levels of the chemical in the environment have been largely blamed on the industry.

The survey was originally conducted in 2001 and 2002 on 2,300 subjects of both genders. However, the delay in releasing the results has infuriated activists and medical professionals alike.

They accused the Bush Administration of trying to pressurize the CDC into dismissing the findings so that Pentagon and defense contractors are spared bad publicity and thus continue to remain in business.

Early studies found perchlorate reduces the level of thyroid hormones and may even cause cancer, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not-for-profit organization that promotes environmental health. The CDC survey confirms the adverse effect and finds that this damage occurs earlier than thought.

Perchlorate belongs to a class called endocrine disrupters, which can impede the normal function of endocrine hormones and interfere with reproduction as well as development of the child. Perchlorate refers to a variety of salts including ammonium, potassium, and sodium perchlorate.

The Environmental Protection Agency found "strong evidence" of perchlorate's danger to infants and issued guidelines in 1999 on safe levels of perchlorates. It recommended "continued use of a provisional reference dose (RfD) range of 7-35 micrograms (�g)/day for a 70 kilogram (kg) adult."

But after a report on the risk of perchlorates by the National Research Council of the National Academies in 2005, the EPA said that even trace amounts of perchlorate cause damage to babies.

The problem of perchlorates is especially acute in California where high concentration of military bases and aerospace industry increase the health risk exponentially. The chemical was detected in surface and ground water as well as drinking water, fruits, vegetables, grains, and even milk.

The EPA acknowledges that perchlorate interferes with thyroid function by preventing the uptake of iodide, which is essential for normal function. "Impairment of thyroid function in pregnant mothers may impact the fetus and result in such effects as changes in behavior, delayed development, and decreased learning capability," it adds.

Thus far, the EPA has identified perchlorate risks in 22 states including Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts. The concerning factor here is that perchlorate may not dissolve for several years, thus multiplying its toxicity.

The EWG said industrial perchlorates may have polluted drinking water supplies, groundwater or soil in hundreds of locations in at least 43 states and may affect more than 20 million Americans.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted multiple studies to assess the level of perchlorate in produce like lettuce, apples and spinach. The agency found significant perchlorate levels and has issued guidelines to manufacturers to control these levels.

In the US, the perchlorate-polluted drinking water may contain a few ppb perchlorate. The levels found in most locations are less than 10 ppb and rarely as much as 25 ppb, according to Wikipedia and the EWG.

In California, an advisory limit of perchlorate in drinking water was 2 to 5 ppb while the EPA recommended a standard of 1 ppb as the danger had become increasingly evident, according to a 2003 report by the EWG, which said that based on its analysis, the limit should be set at 0.1 ppb in order to protect children.

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