2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 5 Dec 2003 23:11:39 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Perchlorate: A Broader View
Below in text are remarks I've prepared for the Open Mike session at
next week-end's National Academy of Sciences Committee meeting on perchlorate.

Lenny Siegel


Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
December, 2003

I appreciate the opportunity to make a presentation to this committee.
As Executive Director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight,
I work with the people who live near and work on military, NASA, and
contractor facilities throughout the United States. Understanding your
charge to review scientific evidence of the health consequences of
exposure to perchlorate, I was not planning to offer testimony. However,
after reading the Defense Department presentation at your October 27,
2003 session, I feel it necessary to counteract what I consider
misleading assertions.

On October 27, a Defense Department spokesman stated that he believes
that a cautious approach to public health will endanger national
security. You were asked not to make findings that might lead to
stringent standards because, he claimed, "Perchlorate helps our troops
stay safe even when they are otherwise in harm's way."1

I believe, however, that is possible to protect the United States and
its people at the same time. The U.S. military is rightfully concerned
that cleaning up our drinking water supplies-whether by point-of-service
treatment or at the source-may cost hundreds of millions, or even
billions of dollars. That's an important policy issue, but I don't
believe that should influence your review of the science.

I first began researching the environmental impacts of perchlorate-based
solid rocket fuel in 1990. Like most other people, I was unaware of the
enormous potential hazard of perchlorate in groundwater and surface
water. Instead, in my report, "No Free Launch,"2 I focused on air pollution.

When perchlorate-based rocket fuel burns, as it is supposed to, it forms
hydrogen chloride. Near the surface of the Earth, that becomes acid
precipitation. When solid fuel combusts in the stratosphere, it ionizes
and depletes the ozone layer. Long before most of us realized that
perchlorate had entered out water resources, there was ample reason to
improve the management of rocket-fuel wastes and develop alternative
fuels. The ever-widening discoveries of perchlorate water pollution just
amplify those imperatives.

Back in the early 1990s, residents of communities such as Pueblo,
Colorado and my own area of Santa Clara (AKA "Silicon") Valley,
California were expressing opposition to the open burning of waste solid
rocket propellant. We prevailed upon Congress to fund the development of
solid-fuel demilitarization and disposal technologies.

I remember corresponding with researchers at the Army's Missile Command
(now Aviation and Missile Command) in  Huntsville, Alabama about their
bench scale experiments using supercritical ammonia to recycle
perchlorate-based fuel. I am happy to report that in 2001 AMCOM
announced the establishment of its "Missile Recycling Capability (MRC)
for the safe disposition of obsolete and over-aged tactical missiles in
an environmental responsible manner." AMCOM explained, "Destructive
incineration and water polluting processes are avoided."3  That
Capability, designed to enable the reuse of ammonium perchlorate, is in
place at the Anniston Army Depot, in Alabama.

That is, the Defense Department today has the technology, at production
scale, to limit both the air emissions and soil/water discharges
associated with the management of rocket fuel wastes. Future perchlorate
releases can be prevented without eliminating perchlorate-based fuels prematurely.

Still, there are other reasons why both the Defense Department and NASA
should pursue the development of alternative solid rocket fuels. Most
significant, stratospheric solid rocket exhaust should qualify as a
Class I Ozone Depleting Chemical. The Air Force Space and Missile
Systems Center has sponsored a series of studies, conducted by the
Aerospace Corporation, investigating this problem. A 1998 report explained:

Solid rocket motors using ammonium perchlorate as an oxidizer deposit
large quantities of chlorine, in the form of hydrogen chloride (HCl),
and aerosols (Al2O3 or "alumina") in the stratosphere. HCl is converted
into active chlorine, which catalyzes the destruction of stratospheric
ozone. The alumina particles may also play a role in ozone destruction
by providing a site for chemical reactions. Rocket launches are thought
to play a minor role in global ozone depletion, but transient local
ozone depletion may approach 100% and last for several hours.4

Though solid-fueled rockets account for a "minor" percentage of global
ozone depletion, they are among the largest sources of ozone-depleting
substances. I don't advocate grounding them immediately, but it's
important to develop safe, environmentally friendly alternatives. 

Fortunately, teams of researchers are working on exactly this problem.
In my own community, for example, Stanford researchers are conducting
the Hybrid Combustion Research Project at NASA's Ames Research Center.
The purpose of this research is to test an environmentally superior
alternative to perchlorate-based solid rocket fuel. The new mix of
paraffin and oxygen will generate combustion byproducts of water and
carbon dioxide, in contrast to the "acid gases, aluminum chloride,
carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen, nitrogen, and aluminum
oxide" created by the burning of perchlorate-based fuel.5  

Since solid rocket fuel is utilized in numerous government missions,
it's possible that substitutes will be found for some uses earlier than
for others. For example, the above technology may prove out for
launching rockets into space, yet not meet the stringent requirements
for battlefield missiles. The key point remains, however. Regardless of
the perchlorate drinking water standard, it's essential to develop new,
environmentally sensitive rocket propulsion technologies.

In summary, the standards set for perchlorate in drinking water will not
prevent the military or NASA from continuing to use perchlorate-based
rocket fuel. However, increased recognition of the health hazards of
perchlorate should promote better waste management practices and
pollution prevention, including the development of substitute fuel
technologies. Indeed, the Defense Department is already moving in that
direction, largely because of the consequences of atmospheric pollution.
I understand why the Pentagon is looking for research that limits its
cleanup liabilities, since the cost of water treatment and remediation
could be very high. But that's an obligation that was incurred, by the
military and its contractors, when they discharged perchlorate into the
environment. And there is no reason to believe that protecting our water
threatens the safety of our troops or in any other way compromises
military readiness.

1Col. Daniel Rogers, USAF, "Presentation to the National Academy of
Sciences Committee to Assess the Health Implications of Perchlorate
Ingestion," October 27, 2003, p. 2.
2Lenny Siegel, "No Free Launch: The Toxic Impact of America's Space
Program," National Toxics Campaign Fund, August 1, 1990
3"Establishing Missile Recycling Capabilities at Army Depots," Fielding
Environmental Solutions, U.S. Army Environmental Center, April 1, 2001
4D.L. McKenzie et al, "High-Resolution Ozone Imager (HIROIG) Final
Report," The Aerospace Corporation, January 10, 1998, p. 1.
5"Information Sheet: Hybrid Combustion Research Project," NASA Ames
Research Center, March 2001.


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

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