In a June 18, 2020 Press Release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its final action not to regulate perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Perchlorate, a chemical often included as an ingredient in rocket fuel, explosives, and missiles, has been linked to several health effects including hormone disruption and negative effects on fetal and young infant brain development. It is both a man-made chemical and occurs naturally, particularly in arid regions such as the southwest United States.

In June of 2019, EPA published a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on three regulatory options that included setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) and a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) at 18 mg/l, 90 mg/l or withdrawing its 2011 determination to regulate perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Since then, there are a number of reasons the Agency chose to withdraw its proposal to regulate this substance. Those include:

  • Massachusetts and California have separate drinking water regulations for this chemical
  • Progress has been made at federal and state perchlorate-contaminated remediation sites, particularly ongoing remediation efforts in Nevada addressing groundwater contamination
  • Exposure has been reduced due to improvements in procedures for storing and handling hypochlorite solutions used as drinking water disinfectants

Additionally, new health impact data recommendations from EPA’s Science Advisory Board shows the concentrations at which perchlorate present a public health concern are higher than those used in the original 2011 regulatory determination.

Not everyone agrees with EPA’s decision to suspend regulatory efforts. Eric Olson, Senior Strategic Director of Health and Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council is quoted as saying, “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.” NRDC indicated its intention to legally challenge the decision and views EPA’s action as a violation of a 2016 consent decree that required EPA to issue a national drinking water regulation for perchlorate by December 19, 2019. Another association also closely linked to protecting public health—the American Water Works Association—had the opposite reaction. In a June 18, 2020, statement, AWWA indicated it agrees with EPA’s conclusion that perchlorate should not be addressed through a national drinking water regulation and the EPA’s decision is consistent with their own analyses over the past two decades.