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DHS news release

May 4, 2007

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Technical contact: Kate Toepel, 503-731-4504

DHS releases Morow-Umatilla perchlorate study


A study released today by the Oregon Department of Human Services found that exposure to perchlorate is not a health threat to residents of Morrow and Umatilla counties.


Perchlorate is a naturally occurring and manmade chemical contaminant that was first detected in Morrow and Umatilla county drinking and irrigation water sources in 2003.

Perchlorate exposure is a particular concern for infants, small children and women of childbearing age because it can harm iodide and thyroid hormone levels that are necessary for proper physical and mental development. It can also affect people with severe iodine deficiency or hypothyroidism.


In 2005 the DHS Public Health Division began to look into other potential sources of perchlorate in Morrow and Umatilla counties, such as local produce, and whether those sources presented an increased health risk when combined with the low levels of perchlorate detected in the area’s drinking water.


"Our intent was to determine whether there was a health risk from exposure to perchlorate from multiple sources combined," said Kate Toepel, M.S., toxicologist and lead researcher on the study.


The Public Health Division tested locally grown and locally available produce and regionally produced milk to determine their perchlorate levels.

In almost all cases, tests showed perchlorate levels that were comparable to levels in similar commodities from other parts of the country, noted Toepel.


"Based on results from our limited sampling and available drinking water data, the level of combined perchlorate exposure does not pose a specific health threat," said Toepel. "Re sidents need to be aware there were low levels of perchlorate in the foods tested as well as in some private drinking water wells in north Morrow and northwest Umatilla counties. However, they do not need to do anything differently to avoid perchlorate. We continue to encourage a well-rounded diet that includes fruits, vegetables and milk. If people are concerned about perchlorate in their drinking water, they should get it tested."


Anyone concerned about the potential impact perchlorate could have on thyroid function, especially people with hypothyroidism or severe iodine deficiency, should work with their medical practitioners to ensure they maintain adequate iodine intake, according to Toepel.


Last month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a similar perchlorate study on locally available produce in the Umatilla-Morrow area. The EPA’s test results showed slightly higher perchlorate levels in produce, but not at a level that would constitute a health threat.