ZWA REPORTS: Rocket Propellant Chemical Found in Drinking Water
YARDLEY, PA / Dec. 11, 1998 - Residents in upscale Yardley-Lower Makefield in Bucks County, Pennsylvania have sometimes been considered "high fliers," but no one suspected that a chemical used in the manufacture of propellant for rockets and missiles would be found their drinking water.
In 1997, the American Water Works Service Company (AWWSC), parent of the Pennsylvania Water Company, tested for perchlorate. According to EPA’s webpage for Perchlorate, "Ammonium perchlorate is manufactured as an oxidizer component in solid propellant for rockets, missiles, and fireworks. The concerns surrounding perchlorate contamination involves its ability to inhibit iodide anion uptake by the thyroid. This results in decreased thyroid hormone production which can affect metabolism, growth, and development ..(it) is exceedingly mobile in aqueous systems and can persist for many decades under typical groundwater and surface water conditions."
Of AWWSC’s four hundred wells across the country, 10 tested positive for perchlorate contamination, including Well # 9 in Lower Makefield Township. The well is located a few yards from the company’s water tower.
It appears the water company did not bring the contamination to the attention of local, county, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials in the Philadelphia office. An activist from California brought it to the attention of ZWA’s Director and local resident, Lynn Landes, who contacted officials.
Landes was stunned by their reaction. They informed her that they will make no plans to notify the public, or private well owners, nor conduct testing of private wells, the contaminated well, or a nearby closed dump with a history of leaking contamination. Township officials are still gathering information.
"It appears that the county, state, and federal regulatory officials have adopted a "Don’t Test, Don’t Tell" policy," says Landes.
Currently, the EPA does not require states to test for perchlorate, nor has the agency set a "maximum contaminant level" (MCL), a federal designation that allows a set level of contamination in drinking water. The often arbitrary nature of MCL’s concerns many health and environmental activists. Groundwater remediation technologies for perchlorate have recently been developed.
Perchlorate has been found in 13 states. Large volumes were disposed in Nevada, California, and Utah since the 1950s. As a result of widespread contamination, the federal Interagency Perchlorate Steering Committee was formed in January 1998.