2002 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 18 Sep 2002 20:58:27 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Perchlorate: A Summary
(I prepared the following summary, which repeats some information
previously posted on this listserver, for the September, 2002 edition of
CPEO?s "Citizens' Report on the Military and the Environment." - Lenny Siegel)

Perchlorate (ClO4), like the proverbial dark horse, is rapidly becoming
a leading cleanup challenge for the Defense Department, military
contractors, and environmental regulators. Rarely listed as a
contaminant of concern as late as the mid-1990s, it is now forcing new
characterization, new cleanup, and extensive research on both its health
impacts and potential remediation technologies. In the United States,
most manufactured perchlorate - primarily in the form of ammonium
perchlorate - is used as the main ingredient in solid rocket fuel. Since
1997, it has been found in soil, groundwater, and even surface water in
California, Nevada, and other western states, and it is now showing up,
somewhat unexpectedly, at military facilities elsewhere. It appears to
come from deteriorated, unexpended fuel at test and training sites as
well as intentional and unintentional manufacturing wastes

Decades ago perchlorate was actually used in the treatment of thyroid
disorders. Today there is general agreement that even in low
concentrations it poses a serious threat to human health. U.S. EPA
explains: "Perchlorate interferes with iodide uptake into the thyroid
gland. Because iodide is an essential component of thyroid hormones,
perchlorate disrupts how the thyroid functions. In adults, the thyroid
helps to regulate metabolism. In children, the thyroid plays a major
role in proper development in addition to metabolism. Impairment of
thyroid function in expectant mothers may impact the fetus and newborn
and result in effects including changes in behavior, delayed development
and decreased learning capability. Changes in thyroid hormone levels may
also result in thyroid gland tumors. EPA's draft analysis of perchlorate
toxicity is that perchlorate's disruption of iodide uptake is the key
event leading to changes in development or tumor formation."

Widespread sampling for perchlorate began in 1997, when California's
Department of Health Services developed a new, more sensitive analytical
method. As of September, 2002, perchlorate has been found in 810
drinking water sources in California, primarily in southern California
and Sacramento County. Remarkably, measurable quantities of perchlorate
have also been found in large surface water bodies, including Lake Mead
and the Colorado River.

Initial environmental detections of perchlorate were found on or near
facilities that produced and testing large solid motors, such as
ballistic missiles and Space Shuttle boosters. More recently, as
sampling is conducted at other military facilities, it is being found at
Army facilities that handled or used smaller, tactical systems,
including the Massachusetts Military Reservation, Aberdeen Proving
Ground (Maryland), and Ft. Wingate (New Mexico). It's likely that
identified Army perchlorate sites merely represent the tip of a national iceberg.

U.S. EPA is conducting a comprehensive review of perchlorate to
determine a health-based cleanup standard. Current data suggests that
the ultimate cleanup goal may be as stringent as one part per billion in
groundwater. Meanwhile, states are using "advisory levels" ranging from
one to eighteen parts per billion. Responsible parties, such as the Air
Force, are reportedly urging less stringent cleanup goals.

More important, in mid-2002 John Paul Woodley, Jr., Assistant Deputy
Under Secretary of Defense (Environment), issued an official Interim
Guidance on perchlorate contamination, in which he stated: "At this
time, it is premature to take further action in absence of promulgated
regulatory standards. I am not authorizing any environmental restoration
study or cleanup beyond sampling and analysis without a regulatory
driver. Similarly, a promulgated regulatory standard will be needed for
environmental compliance action beyond sampling and analysis for
Ammonium Perchlorate." That is, the Pentagon doesn't want to get stuck
with the bill for too much cleanup.

I believe Woodley's memo is short-sighted, because it will slow efforts
to control the spread of contamination and undermine whatever
partnerships remain among the military, its regulators, and the public.
The final health standard for perchlorate will not dramatically affect
sampling efforts or even initial remedial decisions. It will primarily
impact how long remedies will be left in operation once they are installed.

On the positive side, the Defense Department is sponsoring research into
improved remediation technologies, but given the variety of settings in
which perchlorate has been found, research will need to continue for
many years.

Perchlorate, compared to other contaminants such as fuels and solvents,
represents a serious political problem for the military because specific
human ailments can be traced to perchlorate, and because few
institutions outside the military and aerospace industry have produced
or used it. Just as cleanup programs were planning to save substantial
sums of money by relying on natural attenuation to break down fuels and
solvents, perchlorate appeared, requiring active remediation.

Finally, in addition to researching health impacts and cleanup
technology, the military and space program should be devoting
significant pollution prevention research dollars to the development and
testing of cleaner propulsion technologies. Not only have solid fuels
caused the extensive the pollution of soil and water, but
perchlorate-based rocket fuels also release hydrogen chloride into the
air as their normal chemical product. As I wrote way back in 1990 in "No
Free Launch," published by the National Toxics Campaign Fund, this
becomes acid precipitation in the lower atmosphere and stimulates ozone
depletion in the upper atmosphere.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

  Prev by Date: [CPEO-MEF] A week of atomic tests, a life in medical hell
Next by Date: [CPEO-MEF] Alaska Community Right to Know Report
  Prev by Thread: [CPEO-MEF] A week of atomic tests, a life in medical hell
Next by Thread: [CPEO-MEF] Alaska Community Right to Know Report

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index