The study found trace amounts of perchlorate in 15 different brands of powdered baby formula, with the highest concentrations of perchlorate in formula based on cow’s milk with lactose, and lower concentrations in soy, lactose-free and elemental powdered baby formulas.
Earlier tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found perchlorate contamination in drinking water supplies nationwide. According to the CDC, mixing powdered baby formula containing perchlorate with contaminated drinking water could create baby formula with perchlorate levels unsafe for adults, let alone infants. Although some perchlorate occurs naturally, most perchlorate contamination of drinking water comes from military bases, chemical plants and rocket test sites. Perchlorate is also found in fertilizers imported from Chile and widely used in the United States.
No one knows the full extent of perchlorate contamination in the United States, but it is clearly widespread. In 2005, using limited EPA data, the General Accountability Office found that perchlorate had contaminated 153 public water systems in 26 states, and polluted the soil, groundwater and drinking water in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Traces of perchlorate also show up in many fruits, vegetables and other foods as an indirect result of the agricultural use of perchlorate-laced water or fertilizer.
According to the draft EPA, as many as 16.6 million Americans are continually exposed to unsafe levels of perchlorate, while independent researchers estimate the number of at-risk people as 20 million to 40 million. Despite the perceived risks, the EPA has never set a federal standard that would protect public health by regulating the amount of perchlorate allowed in U.S. drinking water.
Parents who want to protect their children or unborn infants from the potentially adverse health effects of perchlorate have a few different options:
- Contact your local water authority to determine whether the water coming into your home contains perchlorate; request a copy of your water district's annual water report and review it with your doctor;
- Install a home water filter that is certified to remove perchlorate during the filtration process; check with the manufacturer to be sure the unit will filter out perchlorate;
- Talk with your obstetrician and/or pediatrician to make sure your child is receiving enough iodine to counter the potentially harmful effects of perchlorate they may be receiving in their diet and to ensure good thyroid function.
Several brands of bottled water are nothing more than tap water, and testing requirements for bottled water are far less rigorous than for public water supplies. Some bottled water could easily contain as much or more perchlorate than the water coming from your tap. The CDC study only tested powdered baby formula, but given the widespread occurrence of perchlorate in drinking water, groundwater and food, there is no guarantee that liquid baby formula is less likely to contain the chemical than powdered formula, and even breast milk may contain traces of perchlorate.
As a parent, your best strategy is to work with your doctor to make sure your baby is receiving enough iodine and to avoid giving them food that combines perchlorate from more than one source, thereby increasing the total amount your child is ingesting.
Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images