Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts, health tips, promotions to support our work and more from EWG. You can opt-out at any time. [Privacy]


Rocket Science

Sunday, July 1, 2001

Rocket Science

Perchlorate and the toxic legacy of the cold war

View and Download the report here: Rocket Science

Sources of drinking water for almost 7 million Californians and unknown millions of other Americans are contaminated with a toxic legacy of the Cold War: A chemical that interferes with normal thyroid function, may cause thyroid cancer and persists indefinitely in the environment, but is unregulated by the state or federal government.

Perchlorate, the main ingredient of missile and rocket fuel, has been detected in 58 California public water systems so far, but fewer than 15 percent of the state’s drinking water sources have been sampled. Perchlorate has also been found in Lake Mead, Nev., and the Colorado River, which supply drinking water to more than half of Southern California as well as being a major source of water for Arizona and Nevada. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found perchlorate-tainted water in 18 states and believes it exists wherever rocket fuel or rockets were made or tested – 39 states in all.

Too much perchlorate can impair proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which controls growth, development and metabolism. Developing fetuses, infants and children with thyroid impairment may suffer mental retardation, loss of hearing and speech, or deficits in motor skills. In fact, improper regulation of thyroid function is the leading known cause of neurological impairment world-wide. At higher levels of exposure, perchlorate may also cause thyroid cancer and harm the immune system.

Perchlorate contamination of water and its effect on the thyroid have been known for decades, but neither California nor the federal government has established any enforceable health standard for perchlorate in drinking water. This year the EPA was scheduled to begin nationwide water sampling and issue its fourth provisional standard, but it will be years before there is an official state or federal drinking water standard.

View and Download the report here: Rocket Science

Key Issues: