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For Immediate Release: Mar 17, 2003
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PENTAGON SEEKS IMMUNITY FOR DEFENSE CONTRACTOR POLLUTION VIOLATIONS

Backdoor Legalization of Perchlorate and Other Weapon Chemicals


Washington, DC - A Pentagon plan billed as a way to protect active military ranges from environmental lawsuits would also shield private defense contractors from liability for their pollution of groundwater and soils, according to agency specialists represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The proposed legislation, officially unveiled last week before Congress, not only exempts munitions and the weapons systems from hazardous waste laws, but also the chemical "constituents" inside the munitions as explosives or as propulsion or rocket fuel. The most widely known such chemical is perchlorate (C104), the main ingredient in solid rocket fuel. Several of the nation's fastest-growing states, such as Nevada, Texas and California, are currently facing potentially crippling water shortages due to groundwater contamination by perchlorate. Perchlorate interferes with iodide uptake into the thyroid gland, the key event leading to changes in development or tumor formation.

By its terms, the Pentagon proposal [Sec. 2019(2)(B)] would -

Allow Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Kerr McGee, General Dynamics, and other defense contractors to release perchlorate, royal demolition explosive, high-melting point explosive, TNT, dioxane, Trichloroethane, and other highly toxic chemicals into the soil;

Prevent state governments and citizens from using anti-pollution laws to stop contamination or force responsible companies to clean up polluted sites because the chemicals would no longer be categorized as hazardous waste; and

Limit US EPA response to only those very few cases where the defense site sits directly on top of a drinking water source under the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Consequently, residential areas far from military bases may have far less protection from the advancing plumes of chemical contamination.

"The whole point of national defense is to protect Americans, not poison them," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization revealed the Pentagon's plans to mount a four year campaign to rollback an array of environmental statutes."The Pentagon is falsely promoting these changes as mere 'clarifications' of environmental law, but in fact they are sweeping rewrites."