Perchlorate is most commonly used in rocket fuel and can damage thyroid function.
What is perchlorate?
Perchlorate is a manufactured or naturally occurring colorless, odorless chemical that is most commonly used in rocket fuel. It comes in the form of crystals or powder. The chemical formula for perchlorate is ClO4. Five perchlorate salts are manufactured in large amounts: ammonium perchlorate, lithium perchlorate, magnesium perchlorate, potassium perchlorate, and sodium perchlorate.
The most common use of perchlorate is in ammonium perchlorate, which is a major ingredient of rocket fuels. Perchlorate is also used to make flares, explosives, blasting agents, fireworks, and military munitions such as grenades. It is used to produce other chemicals, including perchloric acid and perchlorate salts.
Perchlorate and perchlorate salts are used to make matches, dyes, rubber, lubricating oils, car air bag inflators, road flares, drying and etching agents, gunpowder, batteries, chlorine and chlorine-based cleaners, pool chlorination chemicals, electronic tubes, paint, enamel, fertilizers, and nuclear reactors. They are also used in electroplating, leather tanning and finishing, and aluminum refining.
Chewing tobacco may contain perchlorate. Potassium perchlorate is used under limited conditions in thyroid tests for medical patients.
Perchlorates can form naturally in the atmosphere, leading to small levels of perchlorate in precipitation. High levels of perchlorates occur naturally in some areas such as regions of west Texas and northern Chile.How might I be exposed to perchlorate?
You can be exposed to perchlorate by ingesting contaminated food or water, breathing contaminated dust, or touching contaminated soil. You can be exposed to perchlorate through contaminated drinking water, soil, groundwater, irrigation water, eggs, milk, fruit, and vegetables, particularly leafy green vegetables that come from contaminated areas. When water containing perchlorate is used to irrigate plants, perchlorate is left behind when water evaporates from the leaves of the plants. Cows may eat food containing perchlorates and pass it on in their milk, if cows are grazed in contaminated areas.
You can be exposed to perchlorate in your drinking water if you live in an area where perchlorates or rockets have been used, tested, manufactured, or disposed of. These areas include military sites that have had access to solid rocket fuels. You can be exposed if you use fireworks or consumer products such as matches, bleaches, and pool chlorine. You can be exposed if you live in an area where perchlorate occurs naturally.
You can be exposed to perchlorate if you live near or work at a facility that manufactures rocket fuel, fireworks, explosives, and other products made with perchlorates. You can be exposed if you work at a leather tanning facility, aluminum refinery, or medical facility. You can be exposed if you work at a military site that stored or had access to rocket fuel. It is suspected that the highest potential for the release of perchlorates at military sites is during the removal, recovery, and disposal of propellant from solid rocket motors.
Potassium perchlorate was once used to treat thyroid disorders in people suffering from Graves’ disease. If you were treated for this condition or for excessive thyroid hormone production in the past, you may have been exposed to high doses of perchlorate. You can be exposed to lower doses if you are tested for thyroid production, which is done under limited conditions.How can perchlorate affect my health?
Exposure to high levels of perchlorate can damage your thyroid function by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb iodine into the thyroid gland, where iodine is an essential component of thyroid hormones.
Inhaling ammonium perchlorate can cause severe respiratory tract irritation or pulmonary edema. Exposure can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, skin and gastrointestinal tract.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to perchlorate, contact your health care professional.
For poison emergencies or questions about possible poisons, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Drinking Water Contaminants: Perchlorate (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Map of Superfund Hazardous Waste Sites with Perchlorate in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Perchlorate (Food and Drug Administration)
Perchlorates. ToxFAQs. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
ToxGuide for Perchlorate and Perchlorate Salts (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) (PDF — 123 KB)
Last Updated: February 20, 2013