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.