29.05.2024

D.C. Circuit orders EPA to regulate JET FUEL in drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will now be required to regulate jet fuel contaminants in drinking water, a federal court ruled.

A unanimous decision by the three-judge panel at a Washington circuit court sided with environmental groups who argued that the agency failed to set limits on perchlorate in drinking water, a chemical used in military weapons since the 1940s.

The chemical is most commonly found near or on military bases or contracting facilities that use it, where it can leech into the groundwater and contaminate the water that people drink.

When exposed to high amounts, perchlorate can severely hamper thyroid function, which imperils a whole host of bodily functions such as metabolism, digestion, and brain development.

The court ruling reverses a decision by the EPA under the Trump administration not to regulate the chemical contaminant despite findings that came years earlier pointing to the health risks attached to it.

Perchlorate is a chemical that can occur naturally and is manufactured for use in rocket fuel, flares, fireworks, fertilizer and explosives. Commonly found near military bases, perchlorate can disrupt the thyroid and delay fetal brain development

Perchlorate is a chemical that can occur naturally and is manufactured for use in rocket fuel, flares, fireworks, fertilizer and explosives. Commonly found near military bases, perchlorate can disrupt the thyroid and delay fetal brain development

The decision out of the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, led by Judge David B. Sentelle, reversed a 2020 move by the EPA to rescind an Obama-era finding that a safety standard should be set, adding that the EPA does not have the authority to rescind such a finding.

Despite stating in 2011 that the harmful chemical should be regulated by law under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the EPA failed to follow through on that determination and still has not done so under the Trump or Biden administrations.

Judge Sentelle said: ‘The EPA has no inherent authority. It only has the authority given it by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

‘EPA’s obligation then is to consider and apply the «best available, peer-reviewed science,» including any new developments, to set the substance of the regulations—not to reevaluate whether to regulate.’

The unanimous decision from the three-judge panel puts an end to the years and fraught back and forth between the EPA and environmental groups. The ruling fell in one such group’s favor, the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director for Health at Natural Resources Defense Council said of the Tuesday decision: ‘The court ruled that EPA must regulate perchlorate-contaminated drinking water because the agency had found that it poses a health risk to millions of Americans.

‘After more than a decade of delay and litigation, EPA now must issue a drinking water standard for this widespread and dangerous contaminant. It’s about time.’

The chemical is a fairly common contaminant in the US. The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization that tracks chemical pollutants in consumer goods, has found evidence of perchlorate lurking in 379 water utilities serving roughly 12 million people.

Dr Olga Naidenko, EWG’s vice president for science investigations said: ‘This is an important step toward protecting the health and well-being of Americans, since perchlorate has been linked to a range of serious health problems.

‘By requiring the EPA to use its authority to limit perchlorate levels in tap water, the court has ruled the agency must put public health over the interests of the defense industry.’

During the Trump administration, the EPA opted to vacate the earlier regulation after concluding that perchlorate did not meet the criteria for regulation because it did not appear in drinking water ‘with a frequency and at levels of public health concern’.

The Trump-era announcement was met with anger from environmental groups including the plaintiff in this latest case, the Natural Resources Defense Council.

High doses of perchlorate can decrease thyroid hormone production by inhibiting the uptake of iodide by the thyroid, which has a role in regulating a whole host of bodily functions such as metabolism.

Changes in thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy can have a lasting negative impact because the thyroid governs fetal brain development.

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