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EPA drops regulation for contaminant harming babies’ brains

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.Al Drago/Associated Press/POOL Bloomberg via AP

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday ended an Obama-era drive to regulate a widespread contaminant in drinking water linked to brain damage in infants. The agency rejected warnings that the move will mean lower IQs for an unknown number of American newborns.

Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s announcement was the latest in a series of Trump administration rollbacks or eliminations of existing or pending public health and environmental protections, targeting Obama administration initiatives in particular. The Trump administration says the regulations are burdensome to business and are unnecessary.

In a statement, Wheeler said the decision to drop the introduction of federal limits for perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, ammunition and explosives, “fulfills President Trump’s promise to pare back burdensome ‘one-size-fits-all’ overregulation for the American people.”

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Perchlorate from runoff contaminates the drinking water of as many as 16 million Americans, the Obama administration said in 2011 when it announced the EPA would act to set maximum limits for perchlorate for the first time.

Perchlorate can damage the development of fetuses and children and cause measurable drops in IQ in newborns, the American Academy of Pediatrics said last August in urging the “strongest possible” federal limits.

Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy group said the EPA’s decision Thursday was ‘‘illegal, unscientific, and unconscionable.”

The EPA was ordered by a court in 2018 to come up with a regulation by this month. The agency said last year it was looking at four options, including a limit for perchlorate in drinking water far higher than those that California, Massachusetts, and other states are currently adopting. The EPA said another option was dropping the proposal to regulate perchlorate entirely, based on the contention that “perchlorate does not occur in public water systems with a frequency, and at a level of public health concern.”

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Wheeler made that position final on Thursday.