EPA to Limit Perchlorates in Drinking Water

by | Feb 2, 2011

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to introduce first-time regulations limiting the amount of several hazardous chemicals in drinking water, the agency will announce today.

The EPA is planning to develop the first national limits on perchlorates, a class of chemical that the EPA says may disrupt the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones needed for growth and development.

Perclolrates are used to produce rocket fuel, fireworks and explosives. They are also found in bleach, in some fertilizers and in nature.

The EPA could take up to two years to develop the standard, the Associated Press reports.

The agency is also establishing a drinking water standard on up to 16 other toxic chemicals that may pose serious human health risks including cancer, CNN said. These include several volatile organic compounds, such as trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene.

Monitoring carried out between 2001 and 2005 identified 153 drinking water sources contaminated with perchlorates in 26 states. More than four percent of public water systems have detected perchlorates and between 5 and 17 million people may drinking water contaminated with the chemicals, according to EPA data cited by CNN.

Some states already have their own limits on perchlorates in drinking water.

Most perchlorate contamination is caused by poor disposal at military bases, rocket testing sites and chemical plants, the Associated Press said, and polluters could face liabilities.

The EPA has been considering perchlorate standards for at least eight years, the AP said.  In 2002 the agency said that amounts under 1 part per billion (ppb) should be considered safe. But in 2008, the Bush administration decided not to regulate perchlorate, and recommended that concentration not exceed 15 ppb.

In a press release to be published today, Jackson will say that the agency’s standard for perchlorate will spark innovation in technologies to purify drinking water, the AP reported.

The announcement comes one day after an environmental sciences company announced it is building the nation’s first plant to use biological processes to derive drinkable water out of  perchlorate-contaminated groundwater.

A plant being built Rialto, Calif., by Envirogen Technologies, in collaboration with West Valley Water District and the city of Rialto will treat perchlorate and nitrate to produce up to three million gallons per day of drinking water.

The plant will use microorganisms to reduce perchlorate as high as 300 ppb, and nitrate at 20 ppb, to non-detectable levels. The end products are nitrogen gas and salt.

The system, which is the result of over ten years of research and development, is “green” in that it requires little energy and does nto create hazardous by-products, Envirogen said.

The company said its plant will help the area take a significant step towards clean-up of a major perchlorate plume that has threatened the Rialot-Colton Basin’s water supply since it was detected in 1997.

Picture credit: Matt Biddulph

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