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Trump EPA Deregulates Perchlorate Pollution, Just in Time for Rushmore Fireworks

I remember back in March reading the National Park Service’s assessment of the potential environmental impact of Kristi and Donald’s proposed fireworks show at Mount Rushmore and noticing this passage on the perchlorate pollution found in the waters around the monument due to past fireworks shows:

Water samples collected from the Memorial have been analyzed for perchlorate since 2011. As reported by the USGS (2016b), the aquifer underlying the West Fork Lafferty Gulch is highly susceptible to contamination. This susceptibility is due to the hydrogeologic conditions of an igneous intrusive body, which acts as a dam and thus limits groundwater movement. This limitation on the ability of environmental contaminants to be flushed out of the groundwater system results in an increase in the residence time of a contaminant. Similar to the soil sample results, water samples collected from the Lafferty Gulch basin, which includes the West Fork Lafferty Gulch, contained the highest concentrations of perchlorate (USGS 2016b). Perchlorate has been measured with varying concentrations in Well #1 (Site L-3) from 11 to 38 micrograms per liter (μg/L), in finished drinking water (Site L-7) from 12 to 29 μg/L, in surface water collected at L-5 from 6 to 18 μg/L, and in spring water collected at L-2 from 12 to 54 μg/L.2 The perchlorate monitoring data collected at individual water sample sites display an overall decreasing trend over time (Figure 9). Monitoring data displayed in Figure 9 represents a mixture of data collected by the USGS (2016b) from 2011 to 2014 and NPS data collected primarily from 2016 to 2019. Both the interim and proposed EPA standards are conservative; research suggests that an average adult would need to consume water with concentrations of at least 180 μg/L as a regular drinking water source before they experienced thyroid problems (Greer et al. 2002) [National Park Services, “Mount Rushmore National Memorial Independence Holiday Fireworks Event Environmental Assessment,” 2020.02.27, p. 28].

Right after noting the existence of perchlorate in the local watershed, NPS says that the current levels are around the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency would issue a warning about drinking water quality, but…

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Interim Drinking Water Health Advisory for perchlorate is 15 μg/L. However, EPA is currently involved in a rulemaking process to establish a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 56 μg/L (EPA 2019a). Other MCLs under consideration are 18 and 90 μg/L The current deadline for this process is now June 19, 2020 (pers. comm., L Christ, EPA 2019e) [NPS, 2020.02.27, p. 28].

Heck, I thought, the Trump EPA could just hike the perchlorate threshold and use that new standard to say, look at that! We shoot all these fireworks, and the water is still safe to drink!

But why quadruple the standard when you can just deregulate a pollutant entirely?

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will not regulate that chemical, called “perchlorate,” despite previously saying it would.

And now fireworks are returning to Mount Rushmore on July 3, raising the possibility that more of the chemical will pollute the memorial’s water.

The EPA said today in a press release that perchlorate levels have been dropping nationwide thanks to federal, state and local action. Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement, “Today’s decision is built on science and local success stories and fulfills President Trump’s promise to pare back burdensome ‘one-size-fits-all’ overregulation for the American people”  [Seth Tupper, “EPA Reverses Course, Says It Won’t Regulate Fireworks Chemical Polluting Mount Rushmore’s Water,” SDPB, 2020.06.18].

In Trumpistan, we don’t have to control pollution. We just have to say it isn’t pollution.

Ah, the sweet taste of Freedom™….

Related Science (updated 2020.06.20 06:46 CDT): The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry offers a fact sheet on perchlorate pollution. ATSDR reports we regularly ingest perchlorates in our food and water. The chemical’s main health impact is interfering with the thyroid gland’s use of iodine to produce hormones. ATSDR figures we don’t have to worry too much—if you are worried, just eat more iodized salt—and the science has not yet shown a rock-solid connection between exposure to perchlorate and health impacts, but overexposure to perchlorate could cause fetuses to misdevelop… and if you are strictly pro-life, you can’t go putting fetuses at risk! So if you see pregnant women trying to drink out of puddles around Mount Rushmore, stop ’em!

The warning standard the EPA just abandoned was 15 micrograms per liter (µg/L0, or 15 parts per billion (ppb). California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Office used to set 6 ppb of perchlorate (“an acutely toxic substance“) as its public health goal for drinking water. In 2015, California toughened that standard down to 1 ppb.


  1. mike from iowa 2020-06-19

    Wonder what the Perchlorate pollution around Ellsworth base is? There isn’t much the EPA under a wingnut could do that would surprise me.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-06-19

    The problem is not what the EPA could do but all the things Trump and Wheeler are choosing not to do.

    If you lsiten closely, you can hear the Trumpists chanting, “Defund the (enviromental) police!”

  3. Debbo 2020-06-19

    So perchlorate affects the thyroid. Of course Schizoid Scientist has zero knowledge of how critical the thyroid gland is to a body’s proper functioning on many levels.

  4. Donald Pay 2020-06-20

    The state DENR has authority to regulate pollution and set standards. There is no reason South Dakotans have to allow Trump to poison them. There are several routes you can take, including petitioning for rulemaking.

  5. grudznick 2020-06-20

    Use your old cardboard signs and write Police Perchlorate on them with old lipstick stubs, and march up and down in front of the DENR Headquarters, and see what happens. The DENR probably has their own brand of special forces who will come to monitor you. Normally the DENR special forces are working under cover in the mining and drilling industry, invading bush hippy camps and harassing the Rainbow Family Tribe offshoots that litter up the Black Hills.

  6. Donald Pay 2020-06-20

    Debbo, As someone who has hypothyroidism, I can attest to the fact that a poorly functioning thyroid gland can cause all sorts of issues. Perchlorate, even in small amounts, affects thyroid function and can lead to hypothyroidism. My condition is probably the result of genetics, but I wonder about whether perchlorate exacerbated the problem.

  7. Donald Pay 2020-06-20

    Grudz, What the hell are you talking about? See SDCL 1-26-13. Citizens can petition for rules. It’s sort of like an initiative petition, but it proposes rules, rather than laws. We used it a few times, and, yeah, generally the boards aren’t serious about their duties to protect the life and health of the people of the state, but it never hurts to substantiate that fact.

  8. Eve Fisher 2020-06-20

    Yet another reason to have to – with great regret – refrain from visiting West River this year… Sigh…

  9. John 2020-06-20

    Hey, maybe we should give trump and noem some credit. Perhaps poisoning the waters of Rapid City and western Pennington County may eventually improve the places. (sarcasm, sorta)

  10. Jay Gilbertson 2020-06-20

    If the state was inclined to set it’s own standard, the lack of a federal one is actually a bonus. Under the South Dakota Codified Law 1-40-4.1, DENR is prohibited from setting state pollution standards that would be more stringent than the corresponding federal standard. If the feds had simply applied a less restrictive limit, such as 90 μg/L, state law would tied DENRs hands. Now, at least in theory, DENR could opt to establish a limitation on perchlorate to protect South Dakotans.

  11. grudznick 2020-06-20

    Mr. Pay, surely you are aware of the DENR Special Forces units that used to operate beneath the radars. I am pretty sure they still operate, at least some rogue remnants of the units.

  12. leslie 2020-06-20

    Pfssst trump epa

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-06-21

    That’s interesting, Jay! But if DENR enacted a state standard, couldn’t plaintiffs (like… I don’t know… the perchlorate-industrial complex? ;-) ) go to court and argue that any state standard is more stringent than having no standard?

  14. Donald Pay 2020-06-21

    Jay Gilbertson is correct, although SDCL 1-40-4.1 can’t prohibit a citizen from petitioning for rules and bringing evidence to the board regarding the insufficiency of a state standard tied to a federal standards. That petition for rulemaking must be heard. If, as a result of that hearing, the board decides federal standards are not sufficient, they have other statutes requiring them to act to protect human health. They can take appropriate action under state law. It may be true they can’t set a specific standard that is different from federal law, but they can craft a standard or method of control that is both different from federal standards and protective of public health.

  15. Donald Pay 2020-06-21

    Cory, if the EPA fails to set a standard, the state is free to set their own standard. Another option regarding failure to regulate might be a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act. Technical Information Project used this option with Brohm’s Gilt Edge Mine.

  16. Debbo 2020-06-21

    Folks in Nebraska are ahead of the satirically named EPA. Farmers returned land to the Ponca tribe. The land happens to be in the pipeline route.

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