An environmental group has accused perchlorate manufacturers of using a page from the tobacco industry's playbook - promoting bad science to downplay the rocket fuel component's threat to drinking water.
An Environment California report argues that the industry-backed Perchlorate Study Group performs the same function that The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition did for the tobacco industry in the 1990s, when that industry was under fire.
Federal and state regulators are evaluating the threat perchlorate - found in Santa Clarita's groundwater system - could pose to drinking water. Study co-author Sujatha Jahagirdar said a policy to deal with perchlorate should only be based on government or university studies.
"When you have such an enormously influential group peddling misleading information, it's going to lead to skewed regulations and skewed standards for cleanup," she said.
But any influence the Perchlorate Study Group may have remains difficult to determine.
The group does not have a headquarters unto itself, but rather is made up of an alliance of several companies.
Representatives from two of the companies involved, Aeroject and Intertox, did not return calls.
But a statement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated the agency is less influenced by the Perchlorate Study Group than it is by a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study highlighting the dangers of perchlorate.
"EPA is committed to continually examining perchlorate science to ensure that our policies best protect public health," the statement said. "EPA is interested in the CDC's findings, and CDC recommends that further research be conducted to confirm these findings."
In Santa Clarita, officials plan to purge drinking-water supplies of perchlorate, which has been found in high levels on the Whitaker-Bermite site in the center of town. The chemical has been linked to thyroid problems.
The EPA is considering regulating perchlorate in drinking water, but it hasn't done it yet.
California is considering adopting a standard of 6parts per billion, but some environmental groups want a level of 1or 2parts per billion.
Even as state officials debate adopting their own regulations, officials with the Castaic Lake Water Agency say the chemical poses a threat, and they want to remove it to undetectable levels when they start a program next year to pump and treat it from two contaminated wells. The agency manages state water for the area, but it owns a retail division that uses well water.
In its report released Friday, titled "The Politics of Rocket Fuel Pollution," the Los Angeles-based Environment California found the Perchlorate Study Group or its members funded more than half of all studies from 1996 to 2005 on the effects of perchlorate exposure.
"Independent sources" funded less than 10percent of the research, according to the nonprofit Environment California.
"I don't think polluters that have billions of dollars to lose if strong standards are set should play a part in the scientific debate," Jahagirdar said.