Rocket Fuel Chemical in Breast Milk?

Rocket Fuel Chemical Found in Breast Milk of Women in 18 States

24 February 2005 |

by Robert Roy Britt

A toxic component of rocket
fuel has been found in breast milk of women in 18 states and store-bought milk
from various locations around the country.

The chemical, perchlorate,
can impede adult metabolism and cause retardation in fetuses, among other things.
It leaches into groundwater from various military facilities.

Previous studies
have found perchlorate in drinking water, on lettuce, and in cows milk.

The new research, announced
this week, suggests perchlorate is a bigger problem than thought, scientists

Texas Tech University researchers
studied 36 samples of breast milk from women in 18 states and 47 samples cow’s
milk purchased from stores in 11 states. Every sample of breast milk contained
perchlorate, as did all but one sample of dairy milk.

The highest levels were found in women from New Jersey, New Mexico, Missouri,
Nebraska and California, in that order.

The results are detailed
in the online version of Environmental Science & Technology, a journal
of the American Chemical Society. The work was led by Texas Tech biochemist
Purnendu Dasgupta.

"We’ve got to come
to grips with the perchlorate situation quickly,” said California Senator Dianne
Feinstein in a statement. "And EPA has to move quickly to set a national
drinking water standard that protects the health and safety of all Americans.”

The details

Perchlorate occurs naturally
and is also a primary ingredient in solid rocket fuel, munitions and fireworks.
Perchlorate does not build up in human tissues over time, scientists say, but
there has been speculation it could accumulate in breast milk.

In excess, the chemical
can interfere with iodide uptake in the thyroid gland, disrupting adult metabolism
and childhood development, scientists say.

In fetuses, it can potentially
cause mental retardation, loss of hearing and speech, and motor skill deficits.

The average perchlorate
concentration in breast milk samples was 10.5 micrograms per liter. The dairy
milk average was 2.0 micrograms per liter. No definitive national standard exists,
although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had suggested a limit of 1.0
micrograms per liter in drinking water.

The study also found that
high levels of perchlorate in the breast milk samples were indeed related to
low levels of iodide. Low iodide levels can inhibit thyroid function in nursing
women. Scientists admit there is limited data, but Dasgupta and colleagues said
the levels found in the study are “sufficiently low to be of concern.”

They suggest that the recommended
daily intake of iodine for pregnant and nursing women may need to be revised

The report should not raise undue alarm, said Ed
Urbansky, a former Environmental Protection Agency chemist who was not involved
in the latest study.

"It’s very difficult to determine what the
findings might be other than to know it might be in so many milk samples,”
Urbansky said.

In your water

Perchlorate is in the drinking
water of at least 11 million U.S. residents, other research has shown. The chemical
is present in the Colorado river, which provides water to Los Angeles, Phoenix
and Las Vegas and is used to irrigate 70 percent of the nation’s lettuce crops,
according to the Environmental Working Group, which studied the problem in 2003
in cooperation with scientists at Texas Tech.

An overview study of perchlorate
released in January by the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC)
tried to assess the risk, but scientists continue
to argue
about how much of the chemical is too much.

Also in January, a study
out of Russia claimed
children near Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, where rockets are launched,
are twice as likely to require medical attention as other children in the region.

The Associated Press
contributed to this story.

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