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New Mexico’s Environment secretary criticized a preliminary determination by the federal environmental agency that would remove the chemical perchlorate from a list of contaminants to consider for national regulation.
Perchlorate is used in plutonium processing and is a component of jet fuel. According to a Government Accountability Office report in 2005, the chemical has been found in the Los Alamos environment, as well as at Kirtland and Holloman Air Force bases, and White Sands Missile Range, among other military-related locations in the state.
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that perchlorate is at levels of public concern in fewer than 1 percent of public drinking water systems and therefore, did not present a “meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction” through a national drinking water regulation.
The agency noted that states have the right to establish and enforce drinking water standards and that EPA encouraged state-specific situations to be addressed at the local level.
Although no national standards have been established for perchlorate, the state of Massachusetts has set a maximum contaminant level of 2 micrograms per liter. The state of California has established a level of 6 micrograms per liter.
In an announcement accompanying Secretary Curry’s comments on the EPA decision, the state agency described perchlorate, as having been discovered in numerous drinking water systems and groundwater aquifers across the state. The chemical “can have detrimental health effects on humans, particularly pregnant women, newborns and children,” the announcement stated.
In his letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, last week, NMED Secretary Ron Curry charged that EPA’s analysis was “flawed” and “arbitrary and capricious.”
“(I)t is without dispute that perchlorate in drinking water has an adverse effect on the health of persons,” he wrote, citing a 2005 study by the National Research Council.
In summarizing the impact of perchlorate throughout the state, Curry cited the GAO report, and provided additional data that as evidence of widespread groundwater contamination at military installations and nuclear weapons facilities in the state.
“At Los Alamos National Laboratory, perchlorate contamination has been monitored in groundwater beneath much of the 40 square mile facility,” he wrote. “The highest contamination (256 micrograms per liter, in an intermediate well) is within 2000 feet of PM-5, a municipal drinking water production well for Los Alamos County.”
The most recent Environmental Surveillance Report for 2007, which was issued in October this year, reports, “The only Laboratory impact on a potential drinking water supply is at well Otowi-1 in Pueblo Canyon.
For 2007, groundwater samples from this well had an average perchlorate concentration of 2 micrograms/per liter, which is about one-tenth of EPA’s Drinking Water Equivalent Level of 24.5 micrograms per liter. However, this well is not used by Los Alamos County for its drinking water supply and therefore does not present a potential risk to human health.”
EPA’s Science Advisory Board, earlier this month, also objected to the preliminary determination, noting that its Drinking Water Committee had recommended in a draft report that perchlorate is one of four chemicals “that should be a high priority for consideration by the Agency, because there is a higher degree of certainty about their toxicity, occurrence and treatability.”
EPA will make a final decision about whether or not to develop a drinking water regulation for perchlorate within 30 days after Nov. 28, the deadline for comments on the issue.