A March 2008 Government Accountability Office report criticized the Bush White House (pdf) for injecting politics into the EPA’s chemical risk assessment of perchlorate and other toxins.The report suggested that the White House Office of Management and Budget was stalling the completion of risk assessments by forcing scientists to respond to comments from other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense. The report notes that tight restrictions on perchlorate and other toxins would greatly increase safety and cleanup costs incurred by the Defense Department and its contractors.The Perchlorate Information Bureau, an industry trade group supported by Lockheed Martin, Aerojet and other defense contractors, said the cost of an overly restrictive perchlorate standard would be "potentially staggering."
Perchlorate has been found leaching into public water wells from military bases and bomb-building facilities, especially in California.
Less than two weeks before the Bush administration left office, the EPA announced that it would delay its long-awaited decision on whether to set a drinking water standard for perchlorate until the National Academy of Sciences weighed in on the issue.That announcement effectively punted the decision to current EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, who promised to regulate perchlorate at her confirmation hearing.
As we reported previously, when Jackson headed the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, state scientists urged her to regulate perchlorate, which was found at four ppb in six of 123 public water wells (pdf, p. 41) in New Jersey in a 2005 survey.New Jersey still does not have a perchlorate standard.
Other states however, have stepped in to fill the regulatory void.California has set a perchlorate standard at six ppb and Massachusetts at two ppb.
As pressure to regulate perchlorate has mounted, so too has lobbying from the chemical manufacturing and defense industries. In February David Corn reported for Mother Jones that these industries have hired a former Democratic senator from Nevada to stymie efforts to regulate the chemical.
An EPA spokesperson said in an email to ProPublica today that the agency is reviewing the Bush administration’s work and "hopes to announce our direction soon."
"Perchlorate exposure is a serious issue," the email said, "and it’s a top priority for Administrator Jackson, who is concerned about its health effects on children."
Joaquin Sapien is an investigative reporter for ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces journalism in the public interest.