3 November 2006
Perchlorates: Report on Widespread Rocket Fuel Pollution in Nation's Food and Water
Organic Consumers Association


A new analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that a toxic chemical in rocket fuel has severely contaminated the nation's food and water supply (read the Environmental Working Group study here).

Scientists warn that the chemical, known as perchlorate, could cause thyroid deficiency in more than 2.2 million women of childbearing age.

This thyroid deficiency could damage the fetus of pregnant women, if left untreated. Perchlorate, the explosive ingredient in solid rocket fuel, has leaked from military bases and defense and aerospace contractors' plants in at least 22 states, contaminating drinking water for millions of Americans.

Despite massive complaints, defense contractors such as Kerr-McGee have done little or nothing to clean up the pollution. Perchlorate has also been widely detected in milk, lettuce, produce and other foods. In an alarming study, the CDC found perchlorate in the urine of every person tested. The OCA has mobilized thousands of organic consumers to pressure the EPA and government officials to begin a massive clean up of perchlorate for over a year.

Background: The Environmental Working Groups new report is an anlaysis of data originally released in 2005, when the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long anticipated report on the human health effects of perchlorates, a byproduct of rocket fuel. Perchlorates, which are a common pollutant near military sites, have recently been found in the water at concerning levels in 22 states as well as in 93% of lettuce and milk. 97% of breast milk samples taken randomly from around the U.S. have tested positive for perchlorates.

The government funded NAS report reveals that perchlorates are roughly ten times more toxic to humans than the Department of Defense has been claiming. Perchlorates can inhibit thyroid function, cause birth defects and lower IQs, and are considered particularly dangerous to children.

The NAS report recommends human exposure at no more than .0007 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The EPA has responded to the report by announcing a new drinking water standard of 24.5 ppb for perchlorate. This is bad news for military sites and rocket fuel plants around the country, including Henderson, Nevada, where EPA well monitoring has found perchlorates at a level 30,000 times higher than that. There are over 12,000 military sites in the U.S. that are used for training with live explosives.

The Pentagon is urging Congress to pass a new law that would allow the military to freely violate a host of environmental regulations. Entitled "The Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative," the legislation would allow military facilities to ignore laws like the Clean Air Act. The Pentagon claims environmental regulations are a threat to national security, since they restrict the military.

To date, only one Senator has had the backbone to propose legislation that would hold the military (and other perchlorate polluters) responsible for this excessive pollution of the U.S. food and water supply.

Senator Feinstein (CA) has proposed legislation that would spend $200 million to identify and clean up perchlorate sources and provide grants for technologies to clean up existing contamination, while holding perchlorate polluters responsible for cleanup efforts.

"It is imperative that we reduce the perchlorate in our drinking water and protect Californians, especially pregnant women, the unborn, infants, and young children from this threat to their health," said Feinstein of the bill.


  • 2002: EPA releases draft report highlighting widespread water contamination of a toxic rocket fuel byproduct known as perchlorate. The report indicates that most of the pollution is coming from U.S. military sites [Source]
  • January 2003 : Courtroom proceedings reveal that aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin was concealing documents for several years indicating the company knew about toxic levels of percholate contamination in the nation's vegetable produce. [Source]
  • March 2003: California's Senator Feinstein demands the military clean up perchlorate pollution as a matter of public safety. The Department of Defenseresponds by saying it must be exempt from perchlorate liability, as a matter of anti-terrorist "readiness." [Source].
  • April 2003: Bush Administration puts gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency, mandating complete silence regarding military perchlorate pollution and human health impacts. [Source]
  • November 2004: FDA finds perchlorate in 93% of lettuce and milk samples across the nation. Bush Administration requests no regulatory action take place until the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concludes investigation of human health implications. [Source]
  • January 2005: NAS announces perchlorates are as much as ten times as toxic as what the Department of Defense had been claiming. Senator Feinstein of California announces forthcoming bill proposal to create federal perchlorate regulations and to allocate funding for cleanup of existing contamination. [Source]
  • February 2005: EPA adopts NAS recommendations and creates weak perchlorate standards for drinking water without any public comment or review. [Source]
  • June 2005: Senator Feinstein files letter with EPA requesting a review of perchlorate data and stricter perchlorate drinking water standards. [Source]
  • October 2006: The Environmental Working Group releases a study indicating that perchlorate pollution has put 2.2 million women and their children at risk. [Source]

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Questions regarding this issue?

Please only email questions if you have read this entire web page, including investigating some of the external perchlorate research links and news articles on the green navigation bar on the right hand side of this page. Thank you. Send email to Craig Minowa (Environmental Scientist) - Organic Consumers Association


Question: What exactly is perchlorate?

Answer: Perchlorate is an oxidizing anion that originates as a contaminant in ground and surface waters from the dissolution of ammonium, potassium, magnesium, or sodium salts. Perchlorate is exceedingly mobile in aqueous systems and can persist for many decades under typical ground and surface water conditions. Ammonium perchlorate is manufactured for use as the oxidizer component and primary ingredient in solid propellant for rockets, missiles, and fireworks. Because it is a reducing agent, it can undergo a variety of intramolecular redox reactions that lead to the release of gaseous products. Through such reactions, it acts as a thrust booster. Perchlorate salts are also used on a large scale as a component of air bag inflators. Perchlorate salts are also used in nuclear reactors and electronic tubes, as additives in lubricating oils, in tanning and finishing leather, as a mordant for fabrics and dyes, in electroplating, in aluminum refining, and in rubber manufacture, as a mordant for fabrics and dyes, and in the production of paints and enamels. Chemical fertilizer had been reported to be a potential source of perchlorate contamination, but new investigations by the EPA have determined that this is not an issue for agricultural applications. Large-scale production of perchlorate-containing chemicals in the United States began in the mid-1940s. Because of its shelf life, perchlorate must be washed out of the United States’ missile and rocket inventory to be replaced with a fresh supply. Thus, large volumes have been disposed of in various states since the 1950s.

Question: Your alert should focus more on how the Department of Defense and NASA pressured the National Academy of Sciences to create weaker recommendations on allowable perchlorate levels.

Answer: The OCA prides itself on serving information to the public that is 100% founded on fact. It is our feeling, as well, that the military complex pressured the NAS into watering down its report, but neither we, nor any other environmental group out there, have any verifiable evidence of this (yet). So, in contrast to other organizations, we do not, as of yet, feel it's appropriate to trumpet such a headline. We are researching this issue deeply and will continue to adjust our focus, as we obtain more credible and verifiable data. Again, given their track record, we assume that there was pressure from the Department of Defense and NASA on this studies results, but we cannot claim such a thing to be true, based strictly on our assumptions, or we would lose the solid scientific credibility that the OCA is known for.

Question: I've seen newspaper articles that say the NAS report actually suggests perchlorates are less toxic than previously thought. What's up with that?

Answer: This is both true and untrue, depending on what studies you are comparing. The 2002 EPA study claimed up to 1ppb of perchlorate was safe for humans. The Department of Defense claimed up to 200ppb was safe for humans. The NAS report claimed roughly 20ppb is safe for humans. The NAS study was funded in part by the Department of Defense and NASA and two of the panel members had ties to businesses that would be negatively impacted by study results that would substantiate the EPA's claims (thereby requiring literally billions of dollars of taxpayer funding for cleanup). The study results, and media presentation, were given a press spin that highlighted the fact that the study allowed more than the EPA's recommendation. But failed to mention that it was much closer to the EPA's claims than the Department of Defense's claims. Nationwide produce tests have found higher concentrations than 20ppb in some lettuce grown in the West, and CA's current drinking water standard is around 18ppb. In short, despite the media spin put on the results, looking at the actual data, instead of TV and radio, makes is very clear why Senator Feinstein is proposing this bill.

Question: Can I buy a water filtration unit fro my faucet that will reduce perchlorate?

Answer: Yes. NSF has created a testing process to find filtration systems that can reduce perchlorates down to 4ppb or less. They are typically reverse osmosis systems. You can view a full list of products here.

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