Poisoning Americans is just the cost of doing business for Trump’s EPA


Al Drago / AP

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, listens during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing to examine the Environmental Protection Agency, Wednesday, May 20, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

No parent would want their child drinking water with a chemical called perchlorate in it, nor would any expectant mother. The chemical compound, a primary component of rocket fuel, has been linked to brain damage in newborns and infants.

Even the Trump administration, with its profound disdain for science, has acknowledged it harms IQ in children.

And yet last week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the administration wouldn’t set a legal limit on perchlorate in drinking water. The EPA is expected to rule instead that reducing the amount of the substance was “not in the public interest.”

Let that sink in. President Donald Trump and his inner circle do not believe it’s in the public interest to protect Americans from drinking a toxin that they themselves admit is bad for children.

Also know that perchlorate contamination isn’t a small problem. It’s widespread. The EPA issued a finding in 2011 saying perchlorate presented serious health risks to between 5 million and 16 million people and should be regulated. A Pentagon report said the contaminant has been found in 49 of the 50 states, with only Vermont being free of it.

If the chemical sounds familiar to Las Vegas residents, that’s because we’re home to the largest plume of contamination in the U.S.

It came from the old Kerr-McGee chemical plant northeast of U.S. Highway 95 and Lake Mead Parkway, which produced 30,000 tons of it a month for rocket fuel before production halted in 1998.

During 2014, a much better time for environmental protection by the federal government, the Justice Department and EPA obtained a $1.1 billion settlement to clean up the plume, which had entered Lake Mead. That followed more than a decade of work by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to reduce the contamination, and officials say the levels are now minute.

But due to the Trump administration’s refusal to set a limit, which happened in defiance of a court order, the federal government has no regulations on the chemical in water supplies. The effort by the Obama-era EPA to set a limit became mired amid fierce resistance from aerospace contractors and chemical companies, and never reached fruition.

Now, not only are Trump and Wheeler not setting a cap, they’re revoking the EPA’s findings and conclusions from 2011.

In doing so, Wheeler cited new reports showing that for the chemical to be unsafe in water supplies, it had to exist in far higher concentrations than previously believed. But these were the same reports cited by a lobby group for the companies fighting regulations the hardest, including Aerojet Rocketdyne, American Pacific Corporation, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

In other words, the Trump administration decided the financial interests of major corporations were worth protecting, not American children. Actually, check that: It should read all Americans, since perchlorate contamination also poses a risk to adults by affecting the thyroid gland and metabolism.

The chemical, which dissolves into water like salt, blocks the thyroid from taking in iodide, which is essential to the gland’s ability to regulate several body functions. Lack of iodide can cause physical and cognitive development, especially among developing fetuses and young children.

This is hardly Trump’s first harmful decision favoring business interests over public health. Last year, the administration opted not to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that damages the nervous system, and also rejected requests by EPA experts to ban asbestos.

“This is all of a piece,” said Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland, to The New York Times. “You can draw a line between denial of science on climate change, denial of science on coronavirus, and denial of science in the drinking water context. It’s all the same issue. They’re saying, ‘We don’t care what the research says.’ ”

With perchlorate, that denial threatens to cause very real pain.

A smattering of states, including California and Massachusetts, have established their own limits on the toxin. But many haven’t, meaning that the Trump administration has thrown a great number of Americans to the wolves by washing its hands of the issue.

No parent would stand by if their kid were drinking water poisoned with rocket fuel. The Trump administration is perfectly fine with it.