OAKLAND, California, January 2, 2003 (ENS): Perchlorate, an
ingredient in rocket fuel which impairs the thyroid's
ability to take up iodide and produce hormones, has
contaminated almost 300 drinking water sources and farm
wells in California and sources in at least 15 other
states. This new information is found in test data and
documents obtained by Environmental Working Group (EWG),
a non-profit environmental research organization with
offices in Oakland and Washington, DC.
Contamination has affected the Colorado River from
near Las Vegas to the Mexican border. The river is the
primary or sole source of irrigation water for farms
in California, Arizona and Nevada that grow the great
majority of the lettuce sold in the U.S. during the
Eating lettuce or other vegetables grown in fields
irrigated by the Colorado River may expose consumers
to a larger dose of toxic rocket fuel than is considered
safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Test results never before made public, obtained by
EWG, show that leafy vegetables grown with contaminated
irrigation water take up, store and concentrate potentially
harmful levels of perchlorate.
Sworn depositions and other courtroom documents show
that the giant aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed
Martin, a major user of perchlorate, knew as early as
1997 that vegetables stored high concentrations of the
chemical, but said nothing to the EPA or California
state health officials.
EWG says that "Lockheed Martin is responsible
for polluting dozens of water supplies in the Redlands
area of San Bernardino County, California with high
levels of perchlorate and other chemicals."
The company has made no comment on these allegations.
A class action lawsuit has been brought against the
company by more than 800 residents of the area, who
blame contaminated drinking water for cancer and other
health problems. Farms in the area are not irrigated
by the Colorado River, but draw from wells that have
been contaminated by perchlorate plumes from now abandoned
Lawyers at Engstrom, Lipscomb and Lack in Los Angeles,
who represent the Redlands residents suing Lockheed
Martin, learned that the company had earlier been in
negotiation with Lucky Farms, a San Bernardino grower
of lettuce and other vegetables, over contamination
of the farm's water supply. The lawyers subpoenaed all
materials from the negotiations, and have discovered
that Lockheed was sitting on evidence of vegetables'
uptake and concentration of perchlorate.
The subpoenaed documents, obtained by EWG from lawyers
at Engstrom, Lipscomb and Lack, showed that in late
1997 and early 1998, Lucky Farms conducted a series
of tests on its produce to see if they were contaminated
with perchlorate. These tests were conducted on four
samples of "leafy vegetables" and four samples
of some kind of "vegetable matter" which was
Overall, the vegetables were found to have an average
of more than 2,600 micrograms of perchlorate per kilogram
- thousands of times higher than what the EPA considers
to be a safe amount in a liter of water.
"We know the water supplies of millions of Californians
are contaminated with perchlorate at potentially harmful
levels," said Bill Walker, EWG's California director.
"But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There
are hundreds of untested wells and water systems across
the country, and many Americans may be consuming a toxin
which is a health threat at very low doses, especially
to infants and children."
Too much perchlorate can damage the thyroid gland,
which controls growth, development and metabolism. At
higher levels, perchlorate is known to cause cancer.
Although there is currently no federal drinking water
standard for perchlorate, the EPA's proposed "reference
dose," the level that the EPA says is safe to consume
each day, is two micrograms per day for an adult.
"If the perchlorate levels reported here are confirmed
by further testing," EWG says, "immediate
government action will be needed to reduce perchlorate
in lettuce and other vegetables." The EWG is urging
the Food and Drug Administration to test lettuce and
other vegetables grown with Colorado River water for
perchlorate, and that the results of this testing be
made public as soon as they are confirmed.
In addition, says EWG, any grower affected by perchlorate
contamination of their crops "should be fully compensated
for any and all economic losses to their farming operations
and property values."
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