EPA and DOD Square Off Over Rocket-Fuel Pollution

The U.S. EPA is squaring off against the Department of Defense and NASA over ammonium perchlorate, a chemical long used by DOD and NASA for munitions and rocket fuel, and typically disposed of by being diluted in water and dumped on the ground. Based on studies of rodents and children, the EPA contends that perchlorate is unsafe in groundwater at levels above one part per billion. The Pentagon contends, based on its own studies of adults, that the chemical is safe up to 200 parts per billion. Both sides claim the other is using junk science. Cleanup based on the EPA’s standards would cost many billions more — an estimated $40 billion over the next 10 years for the Colorado River alone. Alarmed by the EPA’s recommendations, and the fact that many states are adopting standards closer to the EPA’s, the Pentagon is considering appealing to Congress for legal exemptions. “They’ve retreated to the next trench, which is to fight a legal battle either in the courts or in Congress to wipe out their liability,” said Erik Olson, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council.