Federal agencies detect traces of chemical across country
Wednesday, December 1, 2004 Posted: 10:26 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government has found
traces of a rocket fuel chemical in organic milk in Maryland, green leaf
lettuce grown in Arizona and bottled spring water from Texas and California.
What's not clear is the significance of the data, collected by the Food and
Drug Administration through August 19.
Sufficient amounts of perchlorate can affect the thyroid, potentially
causing delayed development and other problems.
But Environmental Protection Agency official Kevin Mayer called for calm,
saying in an interview Tuesday: "Alarm is not warranted. That is clear."
"I think that it is important that EPA and FDA and other agencies come to
some resolution about the toxicity of this chemical," Mayer said. "That has
been, frankly, a struggle for the last few years."
The FDA found that of the various food items it tested, iceberg lettuce
grown in Belle Glade, Florida, had the highest concentrations of perchlorate.
The greens had 71.6 parts per billion of the compound, the primary ingredient
in solid rocket propellant. Red leaf lettuce grown in El Centro, California,
had 52 ppb of perchlorate. Most of the purified, distilled and spring bottled
water tested around the nation tested had no detectable amount of perchlorate.
Whole organic milk in Maryland, however, had 11.3 ppb of perchlorate.
Asked whether that level of chemical in milk was worrisome, Mayer, the
EPA's regional perchlorate coordinator for Arizona, California, Hawaii and
Nevada, said, "The answer is, we don't know yet."
The FDA said in a statement that consumers should not change their eating
habits in response to the test results, posted on the agency's Web site
Perchlorate is introduced into the environment through a variety of ways
including leakage from rocket fuel manufacturing facilities. The FDA has
hypothesized that perchlorate may get into plants after they are irrigated
with perchlorate-containing water or grown in soil that has been previously
exposed to the chemical.
The testing comes as federal agencies try find how much perchlorate people
are exposed to from food so they can determine whether action is needed to
protect the public health. Federal agencies have been trying since the early
1990s to determine what level of perchlorate is safe.
The state of California, meanwhile, set a standard of no more than 10 ppb
of perchlorate in drinking water. That was lowered to 6 ppb in drinking water
to account for the chemical also lacing food, Mayer said.
A more conservative suggestion, in a draft from the EPA, would allow no
more than 1 ppb of perchlorate in drinking water.
The FDA tested lettuce samples collected at farms and packing sheds and
bottled water from retail stores. Raw milk samples came from a research
facility in Maryland and other milk samples were obtained from retail stores.
"These data are exploratory and should not be understood to be a reflection
of the distribution of perchlorate in the U.S. food supply," the agency said
in a statement. "Until more is known about the health effects of perchlorate
and its occurrence in foods, FDA continues to recommend that consumers eat a
balanced diet, choosing a variety of foods that are low in trans fat and
saturated fat, and rich in high-fiber grains, fruits and vegetables."