Trenton — A multi-year effort to stem the spread of perchlorate, a chemical found in rocket fuel, in New Jersey drinking water has been blocked by order of Governor Chris Christie, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the chemical found in about one-sixth of public water systems will remain unregulated for the foreseeable future despite the strong recommendation of state scientists that a strict standard is needed.
Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel that has many other munitions-related uses. A possible carcinogen, the chemical affects thyroid function, especially in infants, pregnant women and their fetuses. Perchlorate contamination of groundwater has become a national problem, affecting more than 20 states in hundreds of locations. The Centers for Disease Control has even found perchlorate in infant formula. In New Jersey, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found perchlorate in 11 of 67 public water systems sampled.
On March 16, 2009, DEP proposed to enact a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 5 micrograms per liter (μg/L) for perchlorate in drinking water. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, any such proposed regulation must be acted upon within one year or the proposal lapses and the regulatory process must start all over again. As his very first act, Gov. Christie in Executive Order No.1 froze 12 listed regulations that had not been finalized, starting with the perchlorate standard. That freeze for “Red Tape Review” lasts until March 15, 2010 – just one day before the perchlorate standard lapses.
“Unless Gov. Christie and DEP enacts the perchlorate standard during this one day window, then New Jersey drinking water supplies will continue to expose thousands of unknowing residents to unsafe levels of this toxic chemical associated with rocket fuel and military ordinance,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, noting that starting the perchlorate regulation process all over again would take at least a year but probably much longer. “This standard has been ready since last summer and it is business that Gov. Corzine should have taken care of before he left.”
Heavily impacted states such as California and Massachusetts have enacted their own perchlorate standards since national standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been stymied for years by opposition from the Pentagon. At her Senate confirmation hearing in early 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson pledged she would address perchlorate but the EPA process remains in limbo.
“When Jackson headed DEP, she also vowed to act on perchlorate beginning in 2006, then in 2007 and finally in 2008 but she never acted. We fear a repeat performance of this shuffle,” Wolfe added, pointing out that the Christie Executive Order provides for a public health exception which should have kept the perchlorate standard off the list of frozen regulations. “Action by EPA may be the only hope, however slim, because the Christie administration gives no sign that it will support any public health protections going forward.”
This upcoming March 10th, the Christie administration has scheduled a public “stakeholders” meeting as part of its moratorium review on pending perchlorate and other Safe Drinking Water Act rules.
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability