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Fuel Chemical Tainting Some Groundwater

Jan 7, 2003 | AP

A toxic chemical used in rocket fuel has caused increasing concern for its contamination of water supplies through much of the Southwest, and Utah, which played a major role in rocket-motor manufacture, has known areas of groundwater contamination.

How much of the chemical, perchlorate, can be in drinking water before it is dangerous is still in question.

There are three plumes of underground water in Utah that are known to have perchlorate contamination, said Bill Wallner of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste.

One, from Hill Air Force Base, is part of an already well-documented plume of solvent-contaminated water left over from World War II and postwar waste disposal at the base.

That plume is spreading west of the base into Roy.

The second is near Thiokol, west of Brigham City. Wallner said it is spreading south into an area where there are several ranches.

The third is around the Alliant Techsystems (formerly Hercules) facilities in West Valley City and Magna. Some of that has started to show up in a few drinking water wells in Magna, "and more extensively we are seeing drinking water contamination in the drinking water system that Kennecott has," Wallner said.

Rachel Cassidy, a researcher at the state Division of Drinking Water, said there are "a couple of wells" in the Magna area where some perchlorate has been detected, but in such small amounts that by the time it is mixed with water from the city's other wells "it doesn't show up at all."

One well in the Thiokol area has some, she said, but it is not being used.

At Kennecott, bottled water is being provided for employees and filters are being put on taps in kitchens and break rooms.

"So it is something that is on our radar screen, it is something we're keeping an eye on," Cassidy said. "We're lucky here in Utah in that we haven't had the devastating problems we have in other areas. I feel very lucky."

Wallner said the plume near Hill Air Force Base already is the target of a Superfund cleanup program.

"We're actively involved with the problems at Thiokol and Alliant Techsystems," he said, which is simplified now that both rocket makers are owned by Alliant Tech- systems.

"We're still trying to figure this one out as well as everyone else in the country," he said. "This did not become an issue until 1997 and there's been a large national push to find out how to deal with it."

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