A chemical found in blasting agents, fireworks, military munitions and manufacturing processes, perchlorate interferes with thyroid function and, consequently, can impair human development and metabolism.
Perchlorate contamination was initially thought to be a concern primarily in the vicinity of current or former military operations. However, after statewide testing of public water supplies, perchlorate was detected in more than ten Massachusetts drinking water systems, many of which appeared to be impacted by non-military sources of the contaminant.
After intensive study and stakeholder involvement, MassDEP determined that drinking water and waste site cleanup standards were needed to protect the public - pregnant women and children, in particular - from a compound for which there was no existing state or federal drinking water standard.
The agency's process for addressing perchlorate and setting the new state standards was comprised of three key elements:
- Rigorous scientific evaluation of the risks posed by perchlorate. MassDEP met with its scientific advisory committee, to evaluate the health risks posed by perchlorate and to develop appropriate solutions. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Defense (Army, Navy and Air Force) and members of the National Academy of Science's Perchlorate Committee presented information to the Committee and participated in the Committee's discussions. Because its assessment emphasized protecting infants and addressing concerns about breast milk exposures, MassDEP's work led to a lower reference dose than established by other groups.
- Comprehensive and innovative collaboration with major stakeholders. MassDEP, working with both the Massachusetts and New England Water Works Associations, held forums across the state to inform and get feedback from water suppliers about perchlorate sources, the health effects of perchlorate on sensitive subgroups, and the state's process for setting drinking water and waste site cleanup standards.
- Effective outreach programs to help manage the risk. MassDEP found perchlorate in water supplies close to blasting operations and communities with annual fireworks displays. Consequently, agency personnel met with local quarrying companies, the Institute of Makers of Explosives and the International Society of Explosives Engineers to learn more about their products and blasting practices. As a result of this and other research, MassDEP published guidance for blasting and for fireworks contractors on practices to prevent contamination, and worked with industry and municipal partners to widely distribute this information.