SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — An appeals court in Sacramento on Thursday upheld a California environmental agency’s standards for limiting the presence of the chemical perchlorate in the state’s drinking water.
In the appeal brought by plaintiff California Manufacturers and Technology Association, Judge Andrea Hoch ruled the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment properly considered iodide uptake inhibition and established its public health goal “at the level at which no known or anticipated adverse effects on health occur, with an adequate margin of safety.”
Perchlorate, a chemical both manufactured and naturally occurring, is regarded as a potentially serious threat to human health by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as numerous other agencies in the United States. In its manufactured form it’s widely used in road safety flares, fireworks, matches, explosives, common batteries and — most notably — rocket fuel. It can leach into the ground and groundwater, remaining there potentially for decades. Perchlorate contamination has been identified in at least 20 states.
Perchlorate interferes with iodide absorption into the thyroid gland and the production of thyroid hormones, which is vital for prenatal and infant growth and development. Thyroid hormones are required for the growth and function of many tissues including those of the brain, as well as the body’s metabolism. Unlike adults, fetuses and infants have virtually no reserve of thyroid hormone. And because of the increased needs of growing fetuses and babies, iodine deficiency is also more common in pregnant women. Consequently, exposure to perchlorate can mean inhibition of thyroid hormone levels in vulnerable groups. Its presence in water is considered a serious health threat.
Thursday’s decision confirmed the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s guidelines for determining acceptable levels of perchlorate in water, at far more restrictive levels than the California Manufacturers and Technology Association wanted. The association represents manufacturers throughout the state, many of which deal with chemical production or utilization.
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment had set the bar so that the public health goal was “at the level at which no known or anticipated adverse effects on health occur, with an adequate margin of safety.”
In other words, the levels were actually a little beyond the limits at which unwanted impacts on health might occur, essentially providing a buffer.
“We read this language as providing latitude for OEHHA to ensure public health, particularly where the level at which known adverse effects on health may arise, or the amount of exposure that will cause such effects, is not entirely clear,” said Hoch in her decision.
“Based on our reading of the plain language of the statute, we conclude OEHHA acted within its statutory authority in concluding that the onset of iodide uptake inhibition results in ‘anticipated adverse effects on health,’ and that therefore the public health goal must be set at a level so as to prevent iodide uptake inhibition,” Hoch said.
Representatives of both the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment declined to comment.
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