U.S. Water News Online
LUBBOCK, Texas -- A toxic chemical used to make rocket fuel
was found in virtually every sample taken in a new study of nursing
mothers' milk, but researchers said it's too early to know whether
the perchlorate levels are dangerous.
The multistate study by Texas Tech University researchers, found
that breast milk samples were on average five times those detected in
dairy milk pulled from grocery stores.
Perchlorate is a toxic chemical from rocket fuel and weapons
production, and is also formed naturally through lightning. It has
been linked to thyroid damage, learning disabilities, decreased IQ
and attention deficit disorder in children. It leaches into the
ground and has been found in drinking water supplies in 35 states and
has also been found in vegetables.
The milk study is a concern, but its seriousness is still unclear,
said Dr. Ed Urbansky, a former EPA chemist not involved with the
study, who has published several papers on perchlorate.
"It's very difficult to determine what the findings might be other
than to know it might be in so many milk samples," he said. "It's
important not to raise undue alarm over the significance of the
finding. We shouldn't be running through the streets screaming and
not drinking milk because of this."
For the study, conducted over a two-year period, researchers
obtained milk from more than 20 women selected at random and from
stores in 23 states. It was funded out of researchers' pockets and
published online in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The average reading in the study was 10.5 parts per billion, less
than half of the EPA's newly established safe exposure level of 24.5
parts per billion in drinking water.
The highest reading among the mothers in the Tech study was 92
parts per billion. In dairy milk, all but one of 47 samples had
detectable levels of the chemical. No samples were above 11 parts per
Pernendu Dasgupta, a Tech chemistry professor who led the study,
said it "raises more questions than answers" but hopes it helps
people become more aware.
Previous studies have indicated that perchlorate inhibits the
transport in the body of iodine, which in fetuses and children is
necessary for brain development, Dasgupta said.
"I want people to be iodine active rather than crying wolf about
perchlorate," he said. "The real issue is if you're getting enough
Perchlorate was detected in 10 West Texas counties in recent years
and in California, which has extensive ties to the military, defense
industry and the space program.
It has also been found in the Colorado River, the major source of
drinking water and irrigation in Southern California and Arizona.
According to public health advocates, perchlorate has leaked into
the drinking water supplies of more than 16 million Californians
through unsafe disposal and storage methods practiced by the
aerospace, defense, fireworks and road flare industries.
Sujatha Jahagirdar with Environment California called the finding
"We need rocket fuel out of our drinking water now," she said.
"And unless federal regulators act quickly, we're going to see this
stuff popping up everywhere."
In July, the Pentagon announced it had found perchlorate
contamination in groundwater and soil samples at defense at 14
abandoned or likely to be closed military bases sites in 10 states.
In August, a Texas hydrologist claimed low levels of perchlorate from
New Mexico's Los Alamos lab had reached the Rio Grande. The lab did
not dispute that contaminants have entered the groundwater beneath
its 40-square-mile property but said the conclusion that there is a
quick pathway to the Rio Grande was in dispute.
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