The reliable and widely accepted science already exists, the Perchlorate
Information Bureau insists, and it's past due that California recognizes at low
levels the natural toxin isn't hazardous to your health.
The residents affected by San Martin's distressful
rocket fuel groundwater contamination of 2003 are still seeing the remnants of
the spill by Olin Corp.'s shuttered road flare factory on Tennant Avenue - fewer
than 20 wells are still closely monitored and millions of dollars have been
spent by local government agencies to clean and monitor South County's drinking
water. A few residents are even still dependent on bottled water.
But, according to a new study by Boston University
School of Medicine's scientist Dr. Elizabeth Pearce, perchlorate isn't harmful
to thyroid function even in pregnant women in their first trimester. The
findings depict what the National Academy of Sciences has said for 50 years, the
Perchlorate Information Bureau's spokesman Bill Romanelli said; "It doesn't come
as a surprise. It's the same as the bulk of overwhelmingly scientific
conclusions that say it simply doesn't impact human health," he said Monday.
The Perchlorate Information Bureau represents the
interests of the aerospace industry that uses and produces rocket fuel, but
Romanelli said the science speaks for itself.
The primary distributor of
drinking water in Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, has
reported that adverse health effects aren't expected between levels of 4 to 18
parts per billion. In 2003, just a handful of wells were tested higher than 18
parts per billion. The county's health officer, Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, said
exposure to perchlorate can cause thyroid problems and is especially risky to
pregnant women and fetuses from high levels of exposure.
Still locals are feeling threatened nine years later by the water flowing from
their faucets. Just a few days ago San Martin resident and Perchlorate Citizens
Advisory Group chair Sylvia Hamilton said a new resident called her afraid to
bathe her baby in the water.
"She was scared to death. Her landlord didn't tell her about the water. It's
very unfortunate," Hamilton said. Hamilton said she quelled her fears about
bathing her child in water that might have perchlorate. "It has to be ingested,
not just taking a shower, not a swimming pool or if bath water splashed into
your mouth. It's not going to affect people that way. It takes a more constant
ingestion. If the perchlorate is tested at 5 part per billion or more - don't
cook with it," Hamilton said - that's in line with what California's current
"maximum contaminant level" for perchlorate in drinking water (6 parts per
Perchlorate is a salt commonly found in the environment that can be dangerous in
high concentrations because it can interfere with thyroid gland function,
inhibiting the intake of iodine, an essential component of thyroid hormones,
according to the California Department of Health. It's also an industrial
chemical contaminant that is used in rocket propellant, fireworks, flares; and
is present in groundwater, drinking water and the Food & Drug Administration
found perchlorate in more than 300 foods in 2008.
In the Boston University School of Medicine study, pregnant women were tested
for perchlorate in their urine at higher levels than what the Central Coast
Regional Water Quality Control Board is enforcing in the 9.5-mile affected area
in San Martin and Morgan Hill. Women were exposed to 7.8 to 13 parts per
billion, whereas wells in the affected area are regulated at 4 parts per
The objective of Pearce's study was to find if environmental exposure to
perchlorate adversely affects thyroid function in pregnant women because
perchlorate does decrease the uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland - critical
for neurodevelopment in utero. The result found low levels won't adversely
affect pregnant women or unborn children. She added that increased iodine is
recommended during pregnancy, which could offset the possible reduction from
perchlorate ingested most commonly through eating food due to irrigation water.
Pearce, an endocrinologist, said she has no affiliation with the Perchlorate
Romanelli and the Perchlorate Information Bureau and its study group which
follows the science closely, is supported by Aerojet, American Pacific
Corporation, ATK and Lockheed Martin. The Perchlorate Study Group backs Pearce's
study as it comes on the heels of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard
Assessment that recommends California enforce stricter limits on perchlorate in
drinking water from 6 parts per billion to 1 part per billion.
Romanelli said the Perchlorate Information Bureau awaits a peer-review of the
OEHHA's study that recommends the stricter rules on perchlorate. In a letter to
OEHHA, they say that "nowhere in OEHHA's document does it show that California's
current perchlorate standard is not health protective or that lowering the
public health goal from 6 parts per billion (ppb) in water to 1 ppb will offer
any additional health benefit."
Currently, California has a public health goal - an unenforceable suggestion -
that agencies regulate drinking water at 6 parts per billion or 6 micrograms per
liter. The OEHHA is suggesting a public health goal of 1 part per billion which
is just a recommendation and not the same as the maximum containment level
guidelines in place in California now. A federal standard would overrule the
state's, however. The OEHHA recommendation is still under review, but backed by
Sen. Barbara Boxer, as well as Hamilton.
Pearce's subjects were exposed to levels of perchlorate pharmacologically at
much higher doses than can be found on average in the environment and she
concluded that "low-level perchlorate exposure is ubiquitous, but is not
associated with alteration in thyroid function tests among women in their first
trimester of pregnancy," the study reads.
"Reassuringly we really don't see an association," Pearce said.
Despite evidence that perchlorate exposure isn't harmful, the federal government
is upping the ante with regulations on how much perchlorate is allowed in
drinking water. South County's water distributors such as the city of Morgan
Hill and the Santa Clara Valley Water District are sticking with the state's
recommendation pending on if the federal government sets a national standard.
If approved by the Senate, it would be the first federal regulation of
perchlorate. Just California and Massachusetts have regulations on perchlorate
in drinking water.
"We need to protect our most sensitive populations. The low levels probably has
no negative affect on healthy adult men or healthy adult women, but if you're
talking about pregnant women or children or people who have health challenges -
it appears to definitely cause issues and it should be regulated," Hamilton