Rocket Fuel On Your Salad: How Did That Happen?


Irrigation well head. Image credit: Arizona Dept of Water Resources.

A New York Times guest piece by Greenwire's Sara Goodman, said it well:- "The defense and aerospace industries are lobbying the White House to prevent U.S. EPA from tightening a health advisory for a rocket-fuel chemical." She speaks of the tax-payer funded sectors most responsible for purchasing, storing, using, and replacing the common rocket propellant "ammonium perchlorate" or "AP." Roughly half the nation's drinking water comes from groundwater sources, which is where rocket fuel residues tend to end up. The exposure risk of those residues is, as Sara points out, that "The chemical can inhibit the thyroid gland's iodine uptake, interfering with fetal development."What is ammonium perchlorate (AP)?
AP is a heat sensitive chemical salt used to store large amounts of oxygen. Kept pure, AP's oxygen can be safely liberated with heat, which makes it suitable for propelling rockets. NASA is a very big customer. For a dramatic look at the physical dangers posed by AP and an overview of extent of use, have a look at this History Channel-produced documentary on a recent, large explosion of an "AP" factory, one of two in the USA.

Why does EPA revisiting the perchlorate exposure standards make certain industries, including major food retailers, very nervous?
Produce growers, packers, distributors, and grocers are especially worried that EPA will establish stringent exposure guidelines for levels of "AP" found in produce.

As much as "experts" talk like how AP gets in food is a big mystery, it's obvious that irrigation (as pictured above) is a contributing pathway. A more stringent guideline could require expensive treatment of water drawn from irrigation wells, or even require switching food production away from lands historically contaminated by government-funded practices.

To be fair, AP also gets used in fireworks; but, those volumes are relatively low by comparison to what is used by the aerospace and defense sectors. See our archived posts on this topic for details (links below).

When is blast off?
EPA awaits a revised report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) before exposure limit changes are seriously considered for AP in drinking water or food - that may take a few months, or even a few more years. The status of what NAS has worked out previously is found at this link.

What's in the crystal ball?
Lets suppose that the NAS finds a serious risk to human health from commonly measured AP food and water levels. (This is not a foregone conclusion.) But just supposing. What then?

Consumers of locally-produced, and especially organic produce, would certainly want to be assured that the foods they pay a premium for are far removed from AP factories and distribution centers, defense and aerospace test sites, and bases, and that organic farmers are not using AP-contaminated well water for irrigation. I have no idea how this might be achieved.

It's only a short step into the zone where you can call food production "critical to national security." If the problem were serious enough, the industries responsible for the mess would soon enough figure out that they can get paid twice: once to make and manage and use AP; and, another time to clean it up.

Military bases and test sites that have their own water supplies or share them with neighboring communities may suddenly have shared clean up responsibilities for drinking water. That could include .... gulp ... overseas bases.

So, depending on the advisory levels EPA ends up posting, US taxpayers could end up footing the bill for vast AP remediation programs: cleaning up groundwater at "hot spots" and also treating irrigation water wells for 'food security.'

Locally-produced foods would become even more popular.

Every US citizen has a salad on this plate. Lobbying happens; but EPA needs also to hear the voice of the citizenry. It's a problem with a long history.

Like Dwight said:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Above quote is from the Military-Industrial Complex Speech, of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961, Via: MSU.

Additional posts on ammonium perchlorate risk.
Fireworks: Fun for the Whole Family or Dangerous Water ...
Fireworks: The Annual Whine About Their Environmental Impact ...
What's in the Water? Ask the National Tap Water Quality Database ...
Could Nanotechnology Help Purify Your Water?
EPA: Why Impose Limits on Toxicant Levels in the Water Supply ...

Tags: Agriculture | Drinking Water

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