Perchlorate: Has this Chemical Destroyed the Meaning of Organic?

chemical on organic foodPerchlorate is a pollutant and powerful endocrine disruptor that is a key ingredient in rocket fuel. It can now be found in virtually all humans tested, and it continually makes its way up the food chain through ground and drinking water, into feed and edible plants, animal products, milk and breast milk. Perchlorate contaminates conventional and organically grown food alike.

A study on perchlorate levels in North America reported that:

"Conventionally and organically produced lettuce and other leafy vegetable samples were collected from production fields and farmers' markets in the central and coastal valleys of California, New Mexico, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Quebec, and New Jersey.

Results show that 16 percent of the conventionally produced samples and 32 percent of the organically produced samples had quantifiable levels of perchlorate ... Estimated perchlorate exposure from organically produced leafy vegetables was approximately 2 times that of conventional produce ... "

It is no longer possible to believe that you can avoid toxins simply by eating organic, unless something is done about the conventional and dominant food production and distribution system.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Who would have ever thought that when you go through all the trouble, time and expense of purchasing or growing organic foods that they could be contaminated with rocket fuel!!

Perchlorate is a chemical used to make rocket fuel, fireworks, flares and explosives, as well as some bleach and fertilizers. It is also widely used in the defense- and pyrotechnics industries. Unfortunately, this chemical is highly toxic and capable of disrupting the thyroid's ability to produce critical hormones, and it is now causing widespread land and water contamination in many parts of the world.

Perchlorate is Widespread in Water Supplies and Food

Perchlorates are salts derived from perchloric acid, and unfortunately most perchlorate salts are water soluble. Because of this, perchlorate is a common drinking water contaminant; data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that:

" … more than 4 percent of public water systems have detected perchlorate and between 5 million and 17 million people may be served drinking water containing perchlorate."

This contamination exists not only in drinking water but also in water used to irrigate crops. Water from the Colorado River is notorious for being contaminated with low levels of perchlorate from aerospace and defense-related industries and it's known that lettuce irrigated with Colorado River water is contaminated with perchlorate.

Traces of perchlorate have also been found in cow's milk, water supplies, and other vegetables grown in fields around the Colorado River … but contamination is not limited to this area -- or to conventionally grown food.

Organic Food is Sometimes Contaminated with Perchlorate Too

Americans looking for pure sources of food depend on the organic label to keep chemicals and other contaminants out of their food. Unfortunately, because perchlorate is now so widespread in water supplies – water used to irrigate both conventionally grown and organically grown crops – contamination is also pervasive among food crops, including organic.

As reported in a study in Environmental Science & Technology, 16 percent of the conventionally produced samples of leafy vegetables produced outside of the lower Colorado River region and 32 percent of the organically produced samples had quantifiable levels of perchlorate. The estimated perchlorate exposure from organic vegetables was actually two times higher than that of conventional produce!

The problem, again, lies in perchlorate's ability to dissolve in water and quickly contaminate water supplies. If contaminated water is used to irrigate organic crops, those vegetables will then likely be tainted with high levels of this endocrine-disrupting chemical, whether certified organic or not.

Researchers noted:

"These data are consistent with those of other reported perchlorate survey work with lettuce, bottled water, breast milk, dairy milk, and human urine, and suggest a wide national presence of perchlorate."

In fact, separate research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) using data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that 75 percent of 300 commonly consumed foods and beverages were contaminated with perchlorate.

What are the Health Risks of Perchlorate?

Perchlorate is an endocrine-disrupting chemical known to disrupt thyroid function and hormone production by inhibiting your thyroid gland's iodine uptake. Iodine deficiency or conditions that prevent its use in making thyroid hormone lead to decreased amounts of thyroid hormone circulating in your blood, which can manifest as symptoms of hypothyroidism, along with other health problems.

Because of this, perchlorate may affect the normal brain development and growth of fetuses, infants and children, so even a mother's toxic load can place an unborn child at risk. Further, while most people are exposed to perchlorate through their diet in the form of contaminated water and/or foods, infant exposure may be far greater than that of adults, especially if they are fed infant formula, as the toxin may be present in both the formula and the water used to prepare it.

What is the EPA Doing about Perchlorate?

Perchlorate contamination has been around for a long time, largely due to improperly stored rocket fuel and other military uses.

As EWG stated:

"During the Cold War, tons of improperly stored rocket fuel seeped into ground waters around rocket and missile test sites and chemical manufacturing and storage facilities. Defense and aerospace contractors have opposed regulation of perchlorates, for fear of being ordered to bear part or all of the costs of perchlorate clean-ups, expenses that could run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars."

Fortunately, in February 2011 the EPA decided to regulate perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a move that reverses a 2008 preliminary determination that would have left the chemical completely unregulated. The decision was influenced by nearly 39,000 public commenters, as well as the following three criteria:

  1. Perchlorate may have adverse health effects because scientific research indicates that perchlorate can disrupt the thyroid's ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development.
  2. There is a substantial likelihood that perchlorate occurs with frequency at levels of health concern in public water systems because monitoring data show over four percent of public water systems have detected perchlorate
  3. There is a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for between 5.2 and 16.6 million people who may be served drinking water containing perchlorate.

The regulation won't happen overnight -- a proposed analyses and regulation will be up for public review within 24 months, and the final regulation will be determined in the 18 months that follow -- but it is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, you can still be exposed to unregulated levels of perchlorate in your drinking water in the meantime, and even the drinking water regulation will not impact the water used to irrigate crops.

Tips for Minimizing Your Perchlorate Intake

Perchlorate is a very widespread contaminant, so it may be virtually impossible to avoid it completely -- but you can certainly try to minimize your exposure.

Unfortunately, buying organic is not a guarantee that your food is perchlorate-free, but you may be able to lessen your exposure by getting food from small farms that use non-polluted water for crop irrigation. This may take some searching, but there are organic farms that get their irrigation water from naturally occurring artesian wells. At the very least, ask your local farmer if the irrigation water is tested for contaminants like perchlorate, and avoid purchasing food you know has been grown near defense or aerospace industries.

Currently only certain municipalities monitor perchlorate levels in drinking water, so you can call your drinking water utility or state drinking water program to find out if the chemical is monitored in your area. If it's not, or if you get your water from a well, contact an independent laboratory to have your water tested. If it's contaminated, a water filtration system that removes perchlorate should be installed.