EPA will not set drinking water limits on perchlorate, a rocket fuel ingredient linked to fetal and developmental brain damage.
The agency in a final action today said it determined perchlorate does not meet criteria for regulation as a drinking water contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act, citing "best available science and the proactive steps that EPA, states and public water systems have taken to reduce perchlorate levels."
EPA also said it is withdrawing a regulatory determination issued in 2011 to regulate perchlorate under the federal law.
"Today's decision is built on science and local success stories and fulfills President Trump's promise to pare back burdensome 'one-size-fits-all' overregulation for the American people," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. "State and local water systems are effectively and efficiently managing levels of perchlorate. Our state partners deserve credit for their leadership on protecting public health in their communities, not unnecessary federal intervention."
EPA attributed reductions of perchlorate to drinking water regulations in Massachusetts and California, as well as federal and state remediation activities in contaminated sites — particularly remediation efforts in Nevada to address perchlorate contamination in groundwater adjacent to the lower Colorado River upstream of Lake Mead. The agency also cited improved procedures for storage and handling of hypochlorite solutions used as drinking water disinfectants.
Lastly, EPA said it performed a new health impact analysis based on recommendations from the Science Advisory Board, which shows that the concentrations at which perchlorate may present a public health concern are higher than the concentrations considered in the 2011 regulatory determination.
The agency's final rule stems from a proposal issued last year that sought to allow perchlorate in drinking water to reach concentrations 10 times higher than standards set by states and three times higher than the agency's own reference level (Greenwire, May 24, 2019).
EPA's proposal at the time recommended setting a maximum contaminant level goal of 56 parts per billion for perchlorate. By comparison, Massachusetts' standard is 2 ppb, while California is considering lowering its standard of 6 ppb to 1 ppb.
EPA in its proposal said it was asking the public whether it should regulate perchlorate at all, given that it would require monitoring at 60,000 public water systems. And under the 56 ppb proposal, only two systems would "exceed the regulatory threshold," EPA wrote.
The rule, a priority for the water sector, will likely face legal challenges from environmental groups.
"Today's decision is illegal, unscientific and unconscionable. The Environmental Protection Agency is threatening the health of pregnant moms and young children with toxic chemicals in their drinking water at levels that literally can cause loss of IQ points. Is this what the Environmental Protection Agency has come to?" Erik Olson, the Natural Resources Defense Council's senior strategic director of health and food and a former EPA staffer, said in an email.
NRDC last month said it was looking at a legal response after sources confirmed EPA was planning not to regulate the substance.
The group said it believes EPA's decision defies a court order requiring the agency to establish drinking water limits on the chemical (E&E News PM, May 14).
In 2016, NRDC filed a complaint against EPA, alleging that the agency's 2011 determination to regulate perchlorate triggered a mandatory duty under the Safe Drinking Water Act to propose and finalize a maximum limit for perchlorate. Last year, EPA and the environmental group entered into a consent decree to set a maximum level for the substance, as well as alternatives that included no regulation.
EPA's final rule is a victory for groups like the American Water Works Association (AWWA), which represents more than 4,000 water and wastewater utilities.
AWWA last summer submitted comments to EPA saying the agency "rightly suggested that perchlorate does not exist in public water systems with a frequency and at levels of public health concern and that the regulation of perchlorate does not present a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction."
AWWA also wrote that EPA "rightly concluded that the benefits of any of its proposed perchlorate regulations would not justify the costs of such regulatory action" and that imposing a regulation would set a "troubling precedent and undermine the scientific credibility of the Agency's regulatory process under the Safe Drinking Water Act."
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