US drops planned limit for toxin that damages infant brains

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FILE - In this March 28, 2005 file photo a sign posted outside a water well indicates perchlorate contamination at the site in Rialto, Calif. The Environmental Protection Agency has ended an Obama-era drive to regulate a widespread contaminant in drinking water linked to brain damage in infants. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler's decision Thursday rejects warnings from pediatric groups and others that the move will mean significantly lower IQs for an unknown number of American babies. The contaminant is perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel and ammunition. The Obama administration announced in 2011 it intended to introduce federal regulation of it. Wheeler says now no federal regulation is necessary. He says that's partly because some states and public water systems already have taken steps to deal with the contaminant. (AP Photo/Ric Francis, File)

The Trump administration on Thursday rejected imposing federal drinking-water limits for a chemical used in fireworks and other explosives and linked to brain damage in newborns, opting to override Obama administration findings that the neurotoxin was contaminating the drinking water of millions of Americans.

The contaminant is perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, ammunition and other explosives, including fireworks. The Associated Press found one high-profile example of that on Thursday, reviewing a 2016 U.S. Geological Survey report that ties high levels of perchlorate contamination in the water at Mount Rushmore national memorial in South Dakota with past years of fireworks displays there.

While officials stopped the fireworks shows at the Black Hills memorial a decade ago, the pyrotechnics are scheduled to resume this Independence Day holiday at the urging of President Donald Trump, who plans to attend the festivities on July 3.

His administration has rolled back or eliminated scores of existing or pending public health and environmental protections, and the latest example came Thursday when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the government would not move forward on setting the first mandatory federal limits for perchlorate in drinking water.

The rollbacks have targeted Obama-era initiatives in particular, with the Trump administration saying the regulations are burdensome to business and are unnecessary.

Wheeler said in a statement the decision to drop the introduction of federal limits for perchlorate fulfill's Trump's "promise to pare back burdensome ‘one-size-fits-all’ overregulation for the American people.”

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.