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Application of a sensitive new detection method has revealed widespread perchlorate contamination of groundwater in the southwestern United States, typically at 0.005-0.020 mg/L (5-20 ppb). Perchlorate is a competitive inhibitor of the process by which iodide is actively transported from the bloodstream into the thyroid. This inhibitory action of perchlorate is the basis of its pharmaceutical use (in the treatment of hyperthyroidism) as well as its potential toxicity. To establish the dose response in humans for perchlorate inhibition of thyroidal iodide uptake and any short-term effects on thyroid hormones, we gave perchlorate in drinking water at 0.007, 0.02, 0.1, or 0.5 mg/kg-day to 37 male and female volunteers for 14 days. In 24 subjects we performed 8- and 24-hr measurements of thyroidal (123)I uptake (RAIU) before exposure, on exposure days 2 (E2) and 14 (E14), and 15 days postexposure (P15). In another 13 subjects we omitted both E2 studies and the 8-hr P15 study. We observed a strong correlation between the 8- and 24-hr RAIU over all dose groups and measurement days. We found no difference between E2 and E14 in the inhibition of RAIU produced by a given perchlorate dose. We also found no sex difference. On both E2 and E14, the dose response was a negative linear function of the logarithm of dose. Based on the dose response for inhibition of the 8- and 24-hr RAIU on E14 in all subjects, we derived estimates of the true no-effect level: 5.2 and 6.4 micro g/kg-day, respectively. Given default body weight and exposure assumptions, these doses would be ingested by an adult if the drinking-water supply contained perchlorate at concentrations of approximately 180 and 220 micro g/L (ppb), respectively. On P15, RAIU was not significantly different from baseline. In 24 subjects we measured serum levels of thyroxine (total and free), triiodothyronine, and thyrotropin in blood sampled 16 times throughout the study. Only the 0.5 mg/kg-day dose group showed any effect on serum hormones: a slight downward trend in thyrotropin levels in morning blood draws during perchlorate exposure, with recovery by P15.