The Stream, May 15, 2020: U.S. EPA Forgoes Regulations on Water Contaminant Linked to Fetal Brain Damage

The Global Rundown

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) elects not to set limits on the water contaminant perchlorate, which has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage. Two Covid-19 cases are confirmed in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps. The U.S. EPA weighs whether to grant Superfund status to the West Van Buren site in Phoenix, Arizona, where toxic chemicals are tainting groundwater. Sudan refuses to sign an agreement with Ethiopia allowing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to be filled.  Adverse weather and a treatment plant disrupt water supply in Nairobi, Kenya.

“For a city that is under lockdown due to the pandemic, there should be water in the tap. There should be no excuse.” –Boniface Mwangi, a human rights activist, in reference to water outages across Nairobi, Kenya, as residents struggle to combat the coronavirus. Last week, a landslide and heavy storms knocked out parts of the city’s water infrastructure. The Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company has also shut down a key treatment plant for the city. Reuters

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By The Numbers

26 U.S. states where high concentrations of the chemical perchlorate have been found in water, often near military bases where it was used as an additive to rocket fuel. Perchlorate exposure has been tied to fetal and infant brain damage, and a 2018 court order called for EPA regulations to be put in place for the chemical by June of this year. Despite the court order, two EPA staff members allege that EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has decided against regulating the chemical. To substantiate the decision, the Trump administration will reportedly cite new data which claims perchlorate is less of a threat than originally perceived. The New York Times 

2 People in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps that tested positive for Covid-19, marking the first confirmed cases in the sprawling Cox’s Bazaar settlement. Residents in the tightly-packed camps have minimal access to clean water and healthcare facilities, raising concerns that the virus could spread rapidly if left unchecked. Reuters

Science, Studies, and Reports

Sudan refused to sign an Ethiopian proposal that would allow the filling of the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to begin. Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok instead called for a restart of negotiations with Egypt, calling Ethiopia’s current proposal only a “partial agreement” and arguing that it failed to address the myriad social and environmental issues that have delayed construction of the dam. Al Jazeera

In context: HotSpots H2O: Spotlight on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

On the Radar

The U.S. EPA is contemplating whether to designate a polluted area of Phoenix, Arizona, as a Superfund site, which would allow federal funding to be used toward cleanup. The location, known as the West Van Buren site, is adjacent to the Motorola 52nd Street Plant Superfund site where cleanup efforts have been ongoing for decades. The groundwater beneath the large industrial zone is contaminated by a variety of toxic chemicals. AZ Central 

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