29 March 2009
MILWAUKEE -- An environmental group is accusing the government of not doing enough to protect people and the nationís food from potentially dangerous levels of a rocket fuel ingredient.
Itís called perchlorate, and itís a key component in rocket fuel.
"We don't think people realize how widespread of a contaminant it is," Environmental Working Group Dr. Anila Jacob said.
The group says that 20 million to 40 million Americans may be exposed to the chemical.
"We know that the CDC has found perchlorate in 100 percent of the people they've tested, so there's widespread exposure, through contaminated drinking water and also through contaminated food," Jacob said.
The concern is that the fuel additive has seeped into the ground and water in dozens of states -- usually from old military bases or NASA sites. That's how the group said how perchlorate has ended up in the drinking water and the food supply.
For most people, perchlorate contamination poses almost no health risk at all.
But it can be a serious concern for certain groups. It can affect thyroid hormone levels, which in a fetus or newborn baby can inhibit brain development -- which is why advocacy groups said pregnant women and nursing moms need to be made aware.
They have called for better education and stricter food and water guidelines. Congress even held hearings into the matter but not much was happening.
"We made very little progress, we may have even taken a step backward," Jacob said.
Five months ago, the EPA reached a decision -- to do nothing. It would not regulate perchlorate in drinking water at all.
The decision surprised many, and the resulting public outcry led the agency to re-think its position in early January, calling for more investigation.
The EWG says that's not good enough.
"We consider it to be a delay tactic -- every day that we delay in regulating this chemical, millions of people continue to be exposed," Jacob said.
Perchlorate has not shown up in Wisconsinís groundwater.
The EWG said it is concerned about food that comes from states such as California and Texas, where there is contamination.
The group is also currently urging the FDA to increase its research into perchlorate contamination in the food supply, and search for news ways to reduce the risk.
The FDA said, so far testing has turned up no need for any new guidelines or
warnings about perchlorate levels in food. But the testing has been limited to
small samples -- and the agency said much more needs to be done, to know how
widespread the contamination may be.