U.S. Water News Online
SACRAMENTO -- Two state agencies are violating state law by
delaying adoption of what would be the nation's first drinking water
standards for perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel that is
spreading through California's groundwater, legislators said.
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment was required
to develop its public health goal a year ago, while the Department of
Health Services' deadline to set standards was Jan. 1.
``Additional delay is not an alternative'' despite concerns by
manufacturers, the defense industry and the military, said state Sen.
Byron Sher, D-Stanford, at a legislative hearing. ``It's time to get
on with the job.''
Sher called perchlorate ``the most widespread and serious public
health problem facing water utilities ... today,'' one that is
rapidly becoming a concern to agriculture as the tainted water
Terry Tamminen, new secretary of the Environmental Protection
Agency, said a 2002 court order delayed the setting of an initial
public health goal by his agency until a second review by University
of California experts.
That review was completed Jan. 12, and the EPA's Environmental
Health Hazard Assessment Office now has 60 days to complete its work,
Tamminen said. Once that goal is set, Health Services can set
drinking water standards, he said.
Tamminen's timetable was disputed by Sujatha Jahargirdar of
Environment California, who said there is no reason to delay a health
goal that already has been adequately reviewed.
She and other environmentalists contend the defense industry wants
to force further delay in development of standards and cleanup plans.
The Association of California Water Agencies joined the chemical
industry in urging the state to wait for a study by the National
Academy of Sciences later this year. Without that study, the state
standards could be too low or too high, the association said.
Regulators should wait ``to get the science right,'' said Craig
Moyer, a lawyer and witness representing the chemical industry. ``The
idea of this being a delay tactic is ludicrous, when we're talking
about a period of a few months.''
Environmental groups and lawmakers countered that the federal
study could take two more years or longer.
California has a particular problem with perchlorate, which can
cause thyroid disorders, because of its decades-long involvement with
the defense industry, military and space programs.
The contamination has shut down hundreds of California wells that
tap polluted groundwater, and spawned lawsuits from thousands of
people who say years of drinking water laced with the chemical have
caused cancers and other illnesses. Perchlorate also pollutes the
lower Colorado River, the main water source for 20 million people
across the Southwest.
A coalition of environmental groups have written Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger asking for swift setting of water standards, and
warning that delay could hurt the state's exports of vegetables,
fruit and milk produced in polluted areas. The group's letter noted
Canada now requires perchlorate tests on produce from the Imperial
Valley because crops there are irrigated by the Colorado River.
Setting state standards is a necessary step to requiring polluters
-- including the Department of Defense -- to clean up the
contaminated groundwater, the groups argued.
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