New research by Canadian scientists into the spread of a chemical commonly used in military explosives has confirmed some of the worst fears of U.S. environmental regulators tracking the threat posed by the Pentagon’s handling of its munitions in this country.
The Canadian research analyzed soil and water samples at nine sites where military explosives were detonated between 1990 and 2014, and came up with data about where and in what concentrations the explosive compound known as RDX, a possible human carcinogen, had turned up. Calling RDX “an internationally known problem,” which “has led to an international warning on possible soil, surface water, and groundwater contamination on military training sites,” the research described with actual measurements how RDX floats on the wind and seeps through soils into water supplies.
The researchers took water samples from groundwater at the explosives sites and found that in 26 out of 36 samples, the RDX that had made its way into aquifers exceeded levels considered safe. As a result, the researchers suggest that the data can be used to model RDX contamination at any site where munitions are routinely detonated, and for the first time, give environmental experts a way to quantify how much of it is spreading into surrounding communities.
RDX was considered a major military breakthrough when it was first developed for large-scale use on the eve of World War II, and to this day it remains a staple of the U.S. military’s war-making abilities, used in bombs, missiles and other weapons. And for decades, the Pentagon has known about RDX’s potential health and environmental threat. But the Pentagon has long maintained that the risk is not great, and it has both financed research and flexed its political muscle to have its view prevail. Most recently, the Pentagon has waged an intense fight to not have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency upgrade its classification of RDX’s health threat, a move that could expose the Department of Defense to billions of added dollars in cleanup costs.