Toxic rocket fuel component at center of water-safety debate

David Arkin: CNJ Correspondent

An environmental group reported last week that a new study suggests young children and pregnant women who drink milk from California cows may be exposed to unsafe levels of a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel.

The study by the Environmental Working Group comes as California and federal regulators consider setting new standards to regulate perchlorate — the explosive ingredient in missile fuel that has been linked to thyroid damage.

Perchlorate has also been found in Clovis’ drinking water.

Local officials say the levels are so small that water remains safe to drink for most healthy people. But some experts are more concerned than others.

Many caution that anyone with a thyroid condition might want to consult a doctor before drinking water that tests positive for perchlorate.

A recent study by the University of California, Irvine, found that healthy adults were not harmed by levels as high as 100 parts per billion of perchlorate. But the study did not draw conclusions about perchlorate’s impact on pregnant women, children and infants.

California health officials have said perchlorate could be dangerous at levels above 6 parts per billion in drinking water. And the 6 parts per billion level could be used later this year to set the nation’s first state standard.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, and some environmental groups, say that standard would be too weak. The EPA advocates a standard of just 1 part per billion.
Clovis’ levels have been recorded about 4 parts per billion each of the past five years, said Troy Day, a spokesman for Clovis’ water supplier.

“Figure you have a municipal-sized swimming pool and it would account for about four drops of water in that,” Day said.

EWG officials said 7.1 parts per billion were found “near the eastern border of the state,” this year.

Through an EWG study, perchlorate was found in grocery store milk in the Los Angeles area but it wasn’t enough to tell people not to drink milk.

Day said there is no need for the milk sold in Clovis grocery stores to be tested because of the small levels of perchlorate in the region.

Perchlorate can be found in jet fuel, but a media relations spokesman at Cannon Air Force Base said it’s not used in JP8 jet fuel that Cannon uses.

Day said he doesn’t know where the perchlorate found in Clovis comes from.

“We haven’t gone that far to find out,” he said. “It would be a really lengthy process to find out.

“The sampling we do eventually is part of the operating system, which goes into rates which customers have to pay for,” he said. “We can do studies and often spend years in court trying to prove it. This is at such low levels in Clovis that it is not worth it to do the studies.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.