Federal regulators should use sound science as the basis for determining the risk from chemicals in the water supply. So when the EPA's scientific advisers question the agency's rationale for ignoring perchlorate pollution, regulators need to revise their decision.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that it would not set a safety standard for perchlorate in drinking water. A new regulation offered no "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction," the agency said. But this month, the EPA's Science Advisory Board urged the agency to postpone making that preliminary decision final.
Perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel and explosives, can impair thyroid function, and affect brain and nerve development in infants. Perchlorate shows up in 153 drinking water systems nationally. Rialto, Fontana, Redlands, Highland, Corona and northwest Riverside County all have the chemical in water supplies.
The EPA based the perchlorate decision on computer modeling funded by the chemical industry. But the science panel said that model is still undergoing peer review to vet its soundness. The EPA needs a compelling scientific basis to support a decision not to regulate perchlorate, given the chemical's "wide occurrence and well-documented toxicity to humans," the panel said.
So federal regulators last week extended the public comment period on the perchlorate decision until Nov. 28, which still does not give enough time to vet the computer model.
The agency should instead reverse its decision and set a safety standard. The EPA relied on science linked to the chemical industry while ignoring a 2006 Centers for Disease Control study, which found the chemical a health threat to about a third of U.S. women, even in small doses.
A national safety standard would also spur the federal government and its contractors to take responsibility for cleanup, because much of the contamination stems from companies working for the government over decades.
Skimping on science to avoid federal liability only undermines the EPA's real mission: protecting the public.
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008