Perchlorate Tainting Groundwater in Utah

Jan. 10, 2003
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."

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical. Most of the perchlorate manufactured in the United States is used as the primary ingredient of solid rocket propellant. Wastes from the manufacture and improper disposal of perchlorate-containing chemicals are increasingly being discovered in soil and water. In addition to fuel, perchlorate contamination has been tied to plants that made munitions, fireworks and charges that deploy airbags, reported the Chicago Tribune.(1)

Several types of treatment systems designed to reduce perchlorate concentrations are operating around the United States, reducing perchlorate to below the 4 ppb quantitation level. Biological treatment and ion (anion) exchange systems are among the technologies that are being used, with additional treatment technologies under development.(2)

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


1 Chicago Tribune. "Rocket Fuel Taints Water in Southwest," January 6, 2003.

2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Source: AP