WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel that has contaminated drinking water supplies, reversing a decision made under the Bush administration.
A government official briefed by the EPA told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the agency has proposed that the chemical, perchlorate, be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The official, who did not want to be named because a final decision has not been made, said the plan is now under interagency review.
Perchlorate has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental problems in humans, particularly for babies and fetuses.
The Defense Department used perchlorate for decades in testing rockets and missiles, and most perchlorate contamination stems from defense and aerospace activities.
In 2008, under President George W. Bush, the EPA decided against regulating the chemical, saying that setting a federal standard would do little to reduce risks to public health. That decision angered environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers.
The Pentagon and EPA have tussled over the issue for years, with the Pentagon potentially facing liability if the standard were to force water agencies around the country to undertake costly cleanup efforts. Defense officials have denied trying to influence EPA's decision and maintain that releases of perchlorate has been reduced as disposal practices have improved.
Some states, like California and Massachusetts, have set their own standards.
An EPA spokeswoman, Betsaida Alcantara, said in a statement Thursday that the agency is in the process of making a final decision on whether to set a drinking water standard for perchlorate.
"Last year, Administrator (Lisa) Jackson directed EPA to re-evaluate the science on perchlorate and to take into consideration the impacts on the most vulnerable populations, infants and young children," Alcantara said.
A report in August by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, said the primary federal users of perchlorate are the Defense Department, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Energy Department.
The GAO said these departments told investigators that they have reduced the releases of perchlorate and that chemicals detected at their facilities stems largely from past disposal practices.
EPA Perchlorate site: http://www.tinyurl.com/rocketfuel