2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 5 Dec 2003 17:28:26 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Thirsty for information
Thirsty for information
By Larry Wills
Thursday, December 04, 2003

How much perchlorate in the water is safe? The government doesn't know

A federal study has confirmed earlier reports that rocket fuel chemicals
from Henderson industrial plants are contaminating the nation's food
supply. The study by the Department of Agriculture shows that lettuce
grown along the lower Colorado River is particularly susceptible, with
accumulations of the contaminant perchlorate far above the limit
suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Just what kind of health hazard that might pose is being debated, since
the EPA has yet to rule on what concentrations of perchlorate are safe.
Perchlorate has been linked to thyroid and endocrine damage, with
pregnant women and children particularly at risk.

Levels of perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel by the Defense
Department, reached 80 parts per billion in leafy and Romaine lettuce in
six of 10 samples gathered for the study. The EPA has been considering
the safety level at less than 20 parts per billion.

"It's basically leafy greens," Allen Jennings, USDA pest management
policy director, says of the contaminated plants. "We're not finding it
in carrots and onions. The main objective of our study was to see if
other fruits and vegetables had potential levels."

But mustard greens, melons and milk have reportedly yielded levels of
perchlorate in other studies. Jennings insisted the data from Southern
California, which is the nation's largest supplier of winter lettuce,
was not alarming. "We're not seeing that ability to accumulate that we
saw in samples last year and in March and April," he says. He says
contamination levels were about 30 parts per billion, where earlier
lettuce tests reached as high as 80 parts per billion.

He conceded that perchlorate as a salt cannot be washed off the
vegetables, since it ends up in the plant's tissues, but doubted it
posed a health threat. "It's still a healthy diet, certainly until we
know more."

Jennings says the Food and Drug Administration is planning more detailed
tests on the crops along the Arizona-California border. That agency also
has not imposed permissible limits on perchlorate contamination.
"They'll be using more sensitive analytical methods," Jennings says.

But that's of little comfort to Eric Wesselman, a California Sierra Club
official who's tracked the contamination and who plans to issue a report
after the first of the year. "We will provide more information on this
subject," he says. "In a few months, we'll find out how bad this
situation is. Is it good or bad to have rocket fuel in our bodies?
There's a huge need for a federal standard, since this lettuce is being
shipped all over the country."

Wesselman says he's waiting for the public indignation over the
contamination that affects the entire lower reach of the Colorado River.
"Public reaction haven't started yet. Someone's going to discover, `My
God, there's rocket fuel in the water.' You cook with it, you bathe in
it. They'll be amazed to find out no one's doing anything. The drinking
water is just as alarming."

This article can be viewed at:

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