EPA to Deregulate Water Contaminant Tied to Brain Damage

A sign posted outside a water well indicates perchlorate contamination at the site in Rialto, Calif., in 2005. (AP Photo/Ric Francis, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly decided to drop regulation of a water contaminant that’s been linked to brain damage in infants, though agency officials deny a final decision has been made.  

Perchlorate is a chemical compound that has been found to cause IQ damage in young children. It is commonly used in the production of items like fireworks, air bags, rocket fuel, food packaging and munitions. 

In 2011, the EPA under former President Barack Obama determined that perchlorate poses such a big health threat when discharged into drinking water sources that it requires restrictions. It is the first drinking water contaminant the agency had moved to regulate in almost 24 years under the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996. 

The New York Times reported Thursday that the EPA will formally declare in the coming days that it is “not in the public interest” to regulate perchlorate. The report cites agency staff members familiar with the decision.

EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer, however, denied the report that the Trump administration has made a final decision to suspend perchlorate regulations, according to the Associated Press.

The EPA did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment from Courthouse News.

The reported do-nothing move would defy a court-ordered consent decree requiring the agency to issue a drinking water standard for the chemical. The EPA originally had until late last year to finalize the standard but was given an extension until next month.

In an August 2019 letter to Wheeler, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the EPA not to deregulate perchlorate “due to the well-established harms of perchlorate ingestion for children.”

“Children are not little adults, and they are uniquely susceptible to the health risks posed by chemicals such as perchlorate. When drinking water or eating food contaminated by perchlorate, children receive higher relative doses than adults because of their lower body weights,” the AAP wrote on behalf of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists.

In addition to drinking water, the organization says children can be exposed to the compound through contact with food packaging that contains perchlorate as an antistatic agent as well as through breastmilk. Perchlorate can also cause thyroid damage in addition to brain development problem.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, environmental and public health advocates have expressed concern over the Trump administration’s efforts to ease up on pollution restrictions for companies. 

On Wednesday, nine Democrat-led states sued the EPA over its decision on March 26 to temporarily relax several environmental regulations during the Covid-19 crisis. The complaint mirrors another filed by conservation groups last month.

“It was arbitrary and capricious for EPA to adopt a broad ranging policy without considering whether it will exacerbate harms to public health during the current crisis,” attorneys for the states wrote in a lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court against Wheeler and Assistant EPA Administrator Susan Bodine.

Bodine said in the March memo that it would be up to companies to determine when it is practical to monitor pollution and report it to government agencies. The memo adds that companies will not be held accountable for some cases of environmental noncompliance during the pandemic.

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