Perchlorate Panic

April 5, 2009


Here’s this from the Environmental Working Group:  

We don’t think babies should be gulping down a rocket fuel ingredient – do you? But in some areas of your state, when you mix infant formula contaminated with perchlorate – a rocket fuel ingredient than can interfere with infant brain development – with water that’s also contaminated with perchlorate, you put rocket fuel on baby’s menu. Twice.

We have long said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the nation’s water quality, should set a permanent and stringent limit on perchlorate pollution in drinking water.

Although it’s not mentioned in the missive, perchlorate is more than “a rocket fuel” ingredient. It’s also a natural chemical found in Chilean nitrate, an approved organic fertilizer. Check out this from the Perchlorate Information Bureau:

Q: Is perchlorate also found naturally in fertilizer?

A: Yes, since the early 20th century Chilean nitrate fertilizer containing naturally-occurring perchlorate has been widely used in American agriculture. Current amounts of Chilean nitrate fertilizer products being shipped and used in the United States are substantial. According to the Foreign Trade Division, U.S. Census Bureau, the amounts of sodium nitrate imported from Chile into U.S. ports in 2001 was 88,150 metric tons. Specific to California, Chilean nitrate fertilizer containing perchlorate has been widely used since 1923 and between 1923-1998, the reported usage of sodium nitrate in California was 477,061 metric tons. Though the quantities used today are smaller than the amounts applied earlier in the century, the use of Chilean nitrate fertilizer in California remains substantial. Most recent data (2000 U.S. Department of Census) indicates more than 6,600 tons of Chilean nitrate fertilizer were imported to California that year.

I’m pleased with the EWG’s vigilance, but I hope the investigation extends to all areas of the agricultural economy, including the organic industry.

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