Water Contamination Could Be Causing Thyroid Disease in Southwest AZ

May 18, 2017

A human-made chemical used to fire rockets into space, power fireworks, and open airbags in car crashes could also be the cause of numerous cases of thyroid disease in Yuma, Arizona.  For the Arizona Science Desk, Maya Springhawk Robnett reports…

It is believed that nearly 100% of U.S. citizens have perchlorate in their bodies but Arizona is one of the six most perchlorate-polluted states.  The source of Colorado River perchlorate contamination was traced to a production facility in Henderson, Nevada.  For decades, the toxin made its way through groundwater to Lake Mead and into the Colorado River. 

Northern Arizona University researchers have received a 200-thousand-dollar grant from the Flinn Foundation to study the contaminant’s effects on the Yuma population. 

NAU Professor of Ecotoxicology Frank von Hippel said one major issue is that perchlorate remains stable in water.  “So once it gets into groundwater or drinking water supplies” he explained, “it can last potentially for thousands of years.  And it causes health disruption because it prevents iodide uptake at the thyroid gland.”

Perchlorate can lead to hypothyroidism in susceptible individuals.  Symptoms in adults can include weight gain and fatigue. 

As long as we're putting these contaminants into our environment and particularly these contaminants that take a really long time to break down, it's very important to understand what the health repercussions of that are. - Prof. Loren Buck

Loren Buck, Professor of Biological Sciences at NAU, said another major concern is that the chemical can slow brain development in infants.  “As long as we’re putting these contaminants into our environment and particularly these contaminants that take a really long time to break down, it’s very important to understand what the health repercussions of that are,” Buck stated. “And if you can understand the mechanisms of toxicity, you may be able to discover some ways to ameliorate those effects.”

The two-year study begins this week.  Researchers will monitor 300 individuals, half of whom suffer from hypothyroidism.  They will also be capturing and testing rats to compare their perchlorate levels.