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Ion exchange for perchlorate removal

Author:David LaRose  Date:2011-11-22

Perchlorates are the salts derived from perchloric acid. Both can be found in our environment naturally and through manufacturing activities. Most perchlorate salts are very soluble in water.

Perchlorate in drinking water is a health concern because it can damage the thyroid gland which, controls growth, development and metabolism. Fetuses, infants and children with thyroid damage may suffer mental retardation, loss of hearing and speech or other defects in basic motor skills. At higher exposure levels perchlorate has been known to cause cancer. The public should be aware that drinking water is not the only source of perchlorate in the diet. Beef, lettuce, milk, fruit and other agricultural products may also contain perchlorate due to cattle or cows feeding on crops that were exposed to irrigation water containing perchlorate.

Low levels of perchlorate have been detected in both drinking water and groundwater in 46 states according to the EPA report published is 2010. Perchlorate is most frequently used to manufacture fertilizer, fireworks, road flares, explosives and rocket fuels. In many locations perchlorate was detected due to contamination coming from industrial sites that manufactured perchlorate or used the chemical as an ingredient in their products. In other areas perchlorate may be naturally occurring due to the use of Chilean fertilizers, which were imported and widely used in the U.S. in the early 1900s.

Beginning in the 1940s, tons of perchlorate used in rocket fuels and the manufacturing of munitions was disposed of at military sites throughout the U.S. due to its expiration date or shelf life. Poor disposal practices and industrial accidents have contributed to the high levels of perchlorate found in the groundwater, especially in communities surrounding military or aerospace sites.

The national debate between environmental groups, chemical companies, defense contractors and the EPA regarding the potential health hazards of perchlorate has been ongoing. Several states have taken action by enacting a drinking water standard for perchlorate, such as California and Massachusetts. Other states have established “non-enforceable” advisory levels for perchlorate. As recently as July 2011, the EPA has announced that it will regulate perchlorate in drinking water. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, when the EPA determines that a contaminant meets three criteria, it must begin the process of limiting its presence in drinking water. The EPA has determined that perchlorate meets all three criteria.

  1. Perchlorate may have an adverse effect on the public health
  2. Perchlorate is known to occur in public water systems with a frequency and levels which are a concern for public health.
  3. Regulating perchlorate presents a meaningful opportunity for heath risk reduction for those served by public water systems.

This decision by the EPA has not established a limit for perchlorate, just that it will be regulated.

Although there is much debate on the regulatory levels or perchlorate, a maximum concentration level of 3 ppb to 6 ppb (parts per billion or micrograms per liter) has been mentioned with frequency. Such levels may force expensive remediation for those companies that have been identified as the source of the perchlorate contamination. The limit imposed by the EPA will be the next political battle. Once the limit has been determined, the next issue is who will pay for the necessary clean up of sites and public water supplies that have been contaminated by this potentially harmful chemical.

Ion exchange technology has become a proven and well accepted solution for removing perchlorate from drinking water since March 2000. In recent years, perchlorate removal with ion exchange technology has advanced significantly and is widely utilized in numerous public water systems through the U.S. During the ion exchange operation, the perchlorate contaminated water is pumped through a tank that holds the ion exchange resin. The perchlorate ion is attracted and attaches to the special resin. Once the ion exchange resin is saturated with perchlorate, it is replaced with new resin. The exhausted resin is then disposed of in a responsible manner. The capacity of the resin for perchlorate will depend on the water chemistry of the source water.

In closing, I encourage the public to protect themselves by reading the water report from your water supplier which is published July 1 of each year. This information is also available online for the area you reside. If perchlorate is not regulated in your state or if you are on a private well you could have your tap water tested by a state certified water tester. Parents need to be proactive and give their families protection against perchlorate which may be in the tap water. Should you have any concerns I encourage you to contact your local Certified Water Treatment specialist to determine your specific needs.

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