Protect the unborn? Not Trump’s EPA (defying court over fetus-harming perchlorates)

  • Published on May 15th, 2020

Showing once again how little the Trump regime cares about the rule of law, according to unnamed insiders, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Andrew Wheeler will in the coming weeks defy a court order to set a drinking water standard for a toxic chemical known to cause fetal and infant brain damage. The deadline for the standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act is the end of June. The EPA had looked at several options. It picked the most extreme one in its draft proposal: no standard at all.

chemical works

By Meteor Blades

The chemical is perchlorate, an ingredient in munitions, fireworks, and rocket fuel that gives it more punch. Perchlorate has contaminated wells that provide potable water to 16.6 million people. In 2011, the Obama administration reversed a Bush administration decision not to regulate the chemical and said it would set a standard. But it was slow-going, and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued to speed things up. Out of that came a consent decree requiring that an EPA standard be proposed by October 2018 and finalized before the end of 2019. By then, of course, President Obama was no longer in the White House and the deadline had been extended to next month.

At the NRDC, Eric D. Olson writes:

Perchlorate contamination often occurs as a result of pollution from Department of Defense (DOD) or DOD contractor facilities. EPA required limited national testing of perchlorate in drinking water from 2001 to 2005, which was the basis of its finding of widespread perchlorate contamination. No nationwide monitoring has been required over the past 15 years, so few of us know if it’s in our tap water. Because perchlorate threatens the health of fetuses, infants, and young children especially, the American Academy of Pediatricsmultiple independent scientists, and many states (as discussed below) have weighed in, urging EPA to set a strict standard for perchlorate in drinking water. They have been ignored by Wheeler.

EPA staffers told Lisa Friedman at The New York Times that the EPA is making the decision even though agency experts know that exposure to high levels of the chemical can reduce IQs and mess with the production of hormones necessary for development in fetuses, infants, and young children. That apparently makes no never mind to the muckety-mucks and lobbyists from the aerospace industry who oppose regulating perchlorate. For years, they have led the fight to block regulation.

According to staffers, the EPA draft proposal reads: “The agency has determined that perchlorate does not occur with a frequency and at levels of public health concern, and that regulation of perchlorate does not present a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems.”

Friedman points out a striking coincidence in that wording and the wording of public comments from the Perchlorate Study Group, a coalition of aerospace contractors pushing the EPA to take back the 2011 decision to regulate the chemical. No standard is needed, the group said, because “perchlorate does not occur with a frequency and at levels of public health concern” in public water systems.

In 2008, the EPA set an advisory standard—that is, a voluntary one—of 15 parts per billion for perchlorate. But under Wheeler, the agency has been calling 56 ppb safe; maybe even 90 ppb. This despite the fact, as Olson notes, that scientists says the standard of 56 ppb would generate an average IQ loss of two points in those exposed.

Several states in 2019 criticized what they thought would be EPA’s move to a standard allowing for more contamination. For instance, New Jersey experts, who proposed a 5 ppb standard, stated: “The decision to use a predicted decrease in children’s IQ of 2 percent as the basis for the perchlorate MCL [micrograms per liter] does not appear to be well supported or protective of public health. It should be noted that this decision was not reviewed by the peer reviewers of U.S. EPA’s approach for the risk assessment of perchlorate.”

That was before Wheeler decided to thumb his nose at the courts and set no standard at all. One would like to think that this is due merely to the absence of a few IQ points in the EPA’s leadership. But while that may also be true, the underlying cause is another round of the Trump’s regime’s greed and its deep allergy to an entire range of safety, health, and environmental regulations.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.  Image CC by Grey World at Flickr.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

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