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Perchlorate Research Impasse:
Air Force Refuses to Release Data on Rocket Fuel Component's Concentration in Food Crops

Dateline: 06/19/99

According to activist Larry Ladd, who has worked extensively as an advocate to make the public aware of the toxic effects of perchlorate and its contamination in sites around the country, United States Air Force researchers are refusing to release data to their counterparts in the Environmental Protection Agency regarding how much of the rocket fuel component perchlorate is accumulating in the nation's food supply.

Perchlorate, the oxidizer for solid rocket fuel, is currently being evaluated by the EPA for its toxicological effects, including particular concerns regarding perchlorate's ability to damage the thyroid. But the data on perchlorate levels in the food supply, which is contained in research that was funded by the Department of Defense and the aerospace industry, is not being released.
Perchlorate is a contaminant that exists in the environment as a part of other compounds such as ammonium, potassium, or sodium perchlorate. Ammonium perchlorate is manufactured as an oxygen-adding component in solid fuel propellant for rockets, missiles, and fireworks. The concerns surrounding perchlorate contamination involves its ability to affect the thyroid gland.
Ladd says, "the Air Force believes that the rate of accumulation of perchlorate in fruits and vegetables like lettuce and citrus is information too sensitive for public consumption, at least until the toxicological review is completed."

According to Ladd, perchlorate exists in the lower Colorado River at a level of 5 to 10 parts-per-billion, and likely concentrates in some irrigated food crops by several orders of magnitude during the hot desert summer. Ladd has found that a few years ago NASA's Florida operations had requested permission to dispose of old ammonium perchlorate rocket fuel by dispensing it as free fertilizer, but eventually decided against the project.

Ladd has found that there are some indications that NASA's plan merely reflected what was once a common, informal practice in the aerospace industry. Perchlorate is known to have been distributed to manufacturers in 44 states. A water survey by the Suffolk County Public Health Department on New York's Long Island estimated that just under 10% of the county's wells contained levels of perchlorate comparable to those found in the Colorado River, and Suffolk County health officials suspect that their perchlorate came from contaminated nitrate fertilizer. Aerospace scientists claim they have found perchlorate in commercial fertilizer purchased in Georgia, and EPA researchers have verified that a nitrate deposit in the Chilean desert that supplies fertilizer for farmers around the world contains .4% perchlorate.

Defense industry-financed research is underway at Harvard to determine how readily perchlorate concentrates in the human thyroid. The conventional wisdom is that perchlorate's ability to lower thyroid hormone levels is solely based on passive blockage of iodide uptake, and that perchlorate levels found so far in drinking water do not present a health hazard. Concentrations of perchlorate in some food, however, are likely to be substantially higher than levels found so far in the nation's water supply. In addition, no research has been funded to establish with absolute certainty that perchlorate does not react inside the thyroid.

Take Action!!

As of June 14, 1999 the EPA closed the public comment period for its decision to not test the nation's drinking water for perchlorate. However, past experience indicates that public outcry can alter EPA administrative decisions, so persons concerned about perchlorate in their water supply should email the EPA at ow-docket@epamail.epa.gov. Messages should request that perchlorate be subject to "unregulated contaminant monitoring in public water systems" and referenced as follows: "Re: Docket W-98-02 , Perchlorate and the UCM list."


Perchlorate Resources

Latest Perchlorate and Thyroid Links
Up-to-date links list for the perchlorate/thyroid issue.

The Perchlorate Problem -- Central Web Resource
In-depth information on the perchlorate problem, at the ZeroWasteAmerica perchlorate page.

Perchlorate Information Online
Detailed overview of perchlorate's effect on the thyroid gland from the EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

Perchlorate Removal
Calgon Carbon Corporation press release on the process of removing perchlorate from groundwater

EPA -- The Interagency Perchlorate Steering Committee (IPSC)
Committee including representatives from 19 different government agencies focused on finding an integrated approach to framing perchlorate issues and to inform and involve stakeholders about developments in the technical and regulatory arenas.

Toxic Chemicals and the Thyroid -- Other Links

About Larry Ladd

Larry Ladd is a medical geographer serving as a volunteer community representative on the Aerojet Superfund Site Health Assessment Site Team in Rancho Cordova, California. He maintains a perchlorate information webpage at http://www.ZeroWasteAmerica.org/PerchlorateLarryLadd.htm. He can be reached at llladd@sprintmail.com.

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