News Feature | May 17, 2023

Judge Panel Orders U.S. EPA To Regulate Perchlorate-Contaminated Drinking Water

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


A three-judge panel has ruled unanimously that the U.S. EPA must reverse its recent decision not to regulate the presence of a notorious industrial contaminant in drinking water.

“A federal appeals court rules … that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate perchlorate, reversing a Trump-era rollback on a drinking water contaminant linked to brain damage in infants,” the Associated Press reported. “Circuit Judge Florence Pan … called the EPA’s decision not to regulate perchlorate ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’ and rejected the agency’s assertion that perchlorate was occurring at lower levels than previously thought.”

In 2020, the EPA opted not to regulate the compound, typically used in fertilizers and rocket fuel, revoking a 2011 finding by the agency that perchlorate poses a serious health risk to as many as 16 million people. The recent court order is an illustration of how President Biden’s EPA differs from that of his predecessor’s, underscored by the fact that Pan was appointed by Biden last year.

“The perchlorate decision was among those that Biden ordered reviewed at the start of his term,” according to AP. “In its 2020 review, the EPA said state-level regulations and cleanup activities at contaminated sites had lowered the health risks posed by the compound. But the NRDC [National Resources Defense Council] argued that not all states had set safe limits, and perchlorate was one of the most problematic chemicals in drinking water.”

An EPA spokesperson has said that the EPA is reviewing the court’s decision. If it does set new legal limits on perchlorate in drinking water, it will fall on treatment operations to comply.

“The court today rules that EPA must regulate perchlorate-contaminated drinking water because the agency had found that it poses a health risk to millions of Americans,” said Erik D. Olson, a director with NRDC, per Bloomberg Law. “After more than a decade of delay and litigation, EPA now must issue a drinking water standard for this widespread and dangerous contaminant.”

How such a standard would impact drinking water treatment plants, or their operating expenses, remains to be seen.

To read more about how treatment operations address compounds like perchlorate, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.