Davis Controls Rocket Fuel Pollutant in California Water

SACRAMENTO, California, September 30, 2003 (ENS) - Two bills that protect California's drinking water from a toxic component of rocket fuel left from Cold War activities were signed into law Monday by Governor Gray Davis.

The toxic, a white powder called perchlorate, is used in the combustion of rocket fuel and explosives, and in air bags. Perchlorate is a primary source of contamination in California drinking water, passing the gasoline oxygenate MTBE in the number of drinking water wells affected.

Perchlorate blocks the thyroid gland's ability to concentrate iodine from the diet, and people require iodine so their thyroid glands will properly regulate metabolism. In children, the thyroid plays an important role in growth and development.


California Governor Gray Davis (Photo courtesy Government of California)
"Perchlorate is a growing concern. It is a legacy pollution issue left over from the Cold War," said Governor Davis. "American ingenuity won that struggle, now it can win the battle against this chemical that could make much of the state's water undrinkable."

Under the new legislation, the state will establish management practices for perchlorate and will institute a process of notification by owners of perchlorate facilities within five miles of a public drinking water wells contaminated by perchlorate.

One bill requires owners of perchlorate facilities to notify the State Water Resources Control Board about their storage of perchlorate from 1950 to the present, giving informatin about where their perchlorate is stored, and the volume of perchlorate stored.

Consumers will be guaranteed clean replacement water when perchlorate contamination is discovered. The measure emphasizes the authority of the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards to order perchlorate facility owners to replace drinking water supplies that have been damaged by perchlorate.

A statewide electronic database will be established to allow better coordination of perchlorate management activities between the state and local agencies. The database will connect the perchlorate management activities of the California EPA with data from local agencies.


Perchlorate has been found in drinking water in 20 states. (Photo courtesy EPA)
The bill, called the Perchlorate Contamination Prevention Act, directs the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to develop best management practices for perchlorate by December 31, 2005. These management practices would ensure that perchlorate and perchlorate materials are handled in a safe manner and that there is consistent statewide management of perchlorate.

"The development of management practices for perchlorate and perchlorate materials combines the concepts of environmental protection, pollution prevention, and environmental stewardship," said DTSC Director Ed Lowry. "A consistent management practice also ensures consistent enforcement of hazardous waste management laws."

Upon first discovering perchlorate contamination in 1997, the California State Department of Health Services informed water utility companies responsible for drinking water that they were required to develop a regulation plan for treating perchlorate as an unregulated chemical that must be monitored and reported to the department.

Statewide, perchlorate contamination has been found in eastern Sacramento County, Simi Valley, San Gabriel Valley, the Rialto-Colton Basin, water sources for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and in the Colorado River, which supplies water to Southern California.

"These bills strengthen protection measures to ensure that our drinking water supplies are safe and healthy," said Arthur G. Baggett, Jr., chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

"Identifying potential contamination sources and preventing release of perchlorate to the environment, rather than attempting to cleanup after the fact, is more protective of the health of Californians," Baggett said.


Arthur G. Baggett, Jr. is chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board. (Photo courtesy Government of California)
In August, the Department of Defense (DoD), agreed to abide by California's safe drinking water standards for perchlorate and communities' right to know as they work to clean up perchlorate contamination.

The DoD agreed to comply with any final perchlorate regulatory standard promulgated by California, including a safe drinking water standard, and will not attempt to delay compliance until a federal standard is adopted.

The DoD will form a federal/state interagency perchlorate working group to help set cleanup priorities, marshal resources, and communicate California's adopted perchlorate standards. This group will not influence the development of California's safe drinking water standard.

The DoD will provide information on California perchlorate contamination and schedules for testing.

California Senator Barbara Boxer, who has led the fight to overcome perchlorate contamination, said, "Defense Department activities have been a major source of perchlorate contamination in California. This kind of active cooperation will help us find and fix perchlorate problems throughout the state."

The DoD has said that its attempts to secure exemptions from certain federal environmental laws are not intended to exempt the department from liability for cleaning up perchlorate contamination.

Following the Cold War, the U.S. Department of Defense was left with roughly 140 million pounds of ammonium perchlorate to dispose of between 1993 and 2005.

Perchlorate has been found in the drinking water of 20 states, most in the western United States, in areas of Nevada and California. It is found in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has perchlorate in its drinking water.

While the chemical is still moving into water supplies, today's perchlorate levels may not be making people sick. Research on 37 volunteers published in the September 2002 issue of the National Institutes of Health journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," found that perchlorate concentrations in U.S. southwest drinking water may not be high enough to cause adverse health effects.