The chemical is call perchlorate — ammonium perchlorate to be exact. It is used in rocket fuel and explosives. There are millions of pounds of this toxin in drinking water and soil nationwide, especially near military installations.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in 2002, ruled there should be no more than one part per billion of perchlorate in water. But that amount was too low and too costly for military contractors and the Pentagon. So they pushed for another study.

Now a National Academy of Sciences panel announced Jan. 10 that according to their study, drinking water could contain more than 20 times the amount of perchlorate than the EPA’s recommendation. If the NAS recommendations are adopted then it could save billions of dollars for the government and military contractors — but at what cost to people’s health?

“This recommendation confirms our fear — that the White House, Pentagon and its [defense] contractors were able to unduly influence the academy,” Erik Olson, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney, said.

“We’ve never seen such a brazen campaign to pressure the National Academy of Sciences to downplay the hazards of a chemical, but it fits the pattern of this administration manipulating science at the expense of public health.”

The NRDC obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act to back up this claim. Perchlorate is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. The EPA concluded that perchlorate exposure could cause thyroid tumors, one of the main issues the NAS panel disputed.

Many states have their own perchlorate standards. In Massachusetts, it is one part per billion; in California six parts per billion. But millions of Californians get drinking water from nearby Nevada, which is fighting for perchlorate cleanup at Department of Defense sites run by multibillion-dollar corporations like Kerr McGee and Lockheed-Martin.

According to one Nevada news report regarding an installation near Lake Mead, Nev., Kerr McGee collects more than 500 pounds of perchlorate from groundwater every day — down from 1,000 pounds four years ago. So far Kerr McGee has spent $80 million on the cleanup and is suing the government because the Pentagon refuses to pay. This area supplies drinking water for 20 million Americans, including all of southern Nevada.

The Bush administration is also campaigning for exemptions from environmental regulations for certain military installations. That way, environmentalists charge, the Pentagon, the administration and the military contractors all win. They won’t have to pay for costly cleanup. Unfortunately, the public and the environment will pay dearly for the military’s toxic cocktail.
Marguerite Wright contributed to this story.