20 June 2003
Backs Off Water-Test Plan
Fuel-Ingredient Perchlorate Is Center of Fight With EPA on Studies
Pentagon is backing off a proposal to test for perchlorate at all
defense sites in the U.S. in response to complaints from uniformed
officials that it was too costly and unnecessary.
Environmental Protection Agency for more than two years has been
urging the Pentagon to test the groundwater beneath all its bases
for perchlorate, a component of solid rocket fuel that pollutes
water supplies in 20 states and that the EPA says may damage infant
development. But the Defense Department resisted widespread testing,
arguing that it should instead focus on sites where the substance
is known to have been handled and where it poses a demonstrable
threat to public drinking water.
EPA seemed to gain the upper hand earlier this month when the office
of John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant deputy undersecretary of defense
for the environment, circulated draft guidelines that would have
mandated perchlorate testing of all active, inactive and closed
defense sites. It also would have compelled the military services
to "plan and program for future cleanup" in places where
the groundwater is found to contain perchlorate in levels above
one part per billion. That threshold marked an additional concession
to the EPA because its toxicologists believe that anything above
that level is unsafe, while military scientists say that as much
as 200 parts per billion is safe.
some of the uniformed services complained that such comprehensive
testing was unmerited and would consume tens of millions of dollars
from scarce environmental-cleanup budgets, Defense Department officials
said. So the proposal was scrapped, with Mr. Woodley now saying
the draft guidelines "don't necessarily reflect my thinking."
He added, "We're engaged with the services on deciding what
steps we should take during this period of regulatory uncertainty."
winter, after stiff opposition from the Pentagon and the White House,
the EPA asked the National Academies of Science to review its draft
report on how much perchlorate should be deemed dangerous to public
health. The delay likely will add at least a year to the EPA's long
process for setting a drinking-water standard.
Woodley said that in the meantime, any Pentagon testing guidelines
would reflect "a great deal of deference" to scientific
uncertainties about perchlorate's health effects. "Testing
is something we should do, and probably will do eventually, but
it's a question of priorities," he said, while acknowledging
that "every military base has, at one time or another, had
munitions that included a perchlorate component."
aborted testing proposal has caused confusion at some bases. At
Mare Island Naval Shipyard near San Francisco, Navy cleanup coordinator
Jerry Dunaway announced the guidelines at a recent community meeting
and agreed for the first time to a longstanding EPA request to test
the base perchlorate. Later, he found out the draft guidelines were
moot and rescinded his announcement.
troublesome to have directives around that create an incomplete
characterization of a site," said Emily Roth, EPA's project
manager for Mare Island. "We'll never sign off on this site
without perchlorate sampling."
draft guidelines from Mr. Woodley's office were issued at a time
when some senators concerned about the perchlorate issue, including
California Democrat Barbara Boxer, were holding up his nomination
to the new post of assistant secretary of the Army in charge of
the Army Corps of Engineers' civil works. The Senate has yet to
act on his nomination.
policy is under constant review," Mr. Woodley said. "This
was a draft for the purpose of attracting views."
to Peter Waldman at firstname.lastname@example.org
June 20, 2003