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Monday, June 06, 2005

Titan Rocket Booster - Chemical Soup on the Grand Banks

News reports this morning are warning of the possible impact of a Titan rocket booster on our fishing grounds. Not an impact from the sky as such, but a potential environmental impact, the results of which may not be seen for years.

According to information gathered through the freedom if information act, the Titan rocket booster that landed near Hibernia just a short while back contained between 900 and 2,250 kilograms of highly poisonous chemicals when it hit the water.

The typical fuel used in Titan rockets contains a mixture known as Aerozine-50. The chemicals contained in this mix are highly poisonous, corrosive and carcinogenic. Merely breathing the vapours can cause death.

The following is a breakdown of the lovely soup that the American government saw fit to dump off our coast.

Aerozine 50 is a 50/50 mix of hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH). It is used as a rocket fuel, typically with nitrogen tetroxide as the oxidizer, with which it ignites on contact.

Hydrazine was touted in the 1950's as a "wonder chemical". Not only did it make a good rocket fuel, there were also indications that it made a good fertilizer, but there were problems. For one, it's quite unstable-- the chemical plant in which it was being manufactured had several very thick concrete walls separating the various stages of the process, in hopes that an explosion would only wreck part of the plant. Later on it was found to be carcinogenic.

Hydrazine is very soluble in water. At ordinary temperatures it is a colorless, fuming liquid that has an ammonia like odor, but when frozen it forms white crystals. Hydrazine is corrosive. It reacts with water to form hydrazine hydrate, a colorless liquid that boils at 120°C. Hydrazine and its derivatives are also used in the manufacture of algicides, fungicides, insecticides, and agricultural chemicals.

Unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) is a rocket fuel ingredient, often used in combination with the oxidiser, nitrogen tetroxide. UDMH is toxic, and can explode in the presence of oxidisers.

Nitrogen tetroxide is a brownish yellow liquid which is easily vaporized. It is a powerful oxidizer, and is highly toxic and corrosive.

It’s good to see that our federal government is protecting our interests in the form of our offshore by allowing the Americans to use us as a dumping ground for hazardous waste. We can only wonder what impact this sludge will have on fish stocks in the area, not to mention the fact that eventually, some of these chemicals will wash up on our shores.

There is a line of discussion currently underway that suggests the feds should recover the booster and its contents, if they haven’t already entered the ecosystem. The bill for this recovery should be presented to the American government and a new process of co-operation should be developed to help avoid this type of situation in the future.

Will the government take these steps? It’s a pretty good bet that they won’t. They would rather cover it up. There will no doubt be a press release very soon stating that the content of the booster was lower than originally thought, or that the chemicals when diluted in sea water would cause no real risk. These are the types of press releases the government loves. It allows them to close the issue without any real effort or cost.

No cost to the government coffers, but what cost to our coastal marine environment and our fishing industry?

If you would like to contact your MP, the Environment Minister or the Prime Minister to comment on this situation or to pressure them to do something about it, you can do so by clicking the Canadian MP email link on the left side of this page. This will take you to a site containing all of the email addresses for our elected government officials.

UPDATE, June 6, 2005 - 1:02pm NST

The following are excerpts from a Globe and Mail article available on their web site today in reference to the chemicals stored in the Titan rocket booster.

...even heavy firefighting suits cannot protect against the toxic effects. Both chemicals dissolve in water, with the latter forming toxic nitric acid. Dimethylhydrazine initially floats on the water and produces toxic vapours on contact with air.

Sebastien Bois, a spokesman for Environment Canada, says the U.S. Air Force and NASA carried out an environmental assessment covering the Titan IV launch, though the document was not made available to Canadian authorities for “security reasons.”

...Space analysts say the U.S. frequently launches similar rockets along the same flight path, allowing spent boosters to splash down in the North Atlantic.

...Canada's apparent lack of official concern over the toxic rocket chemicals contrasts sharply with new legislation to protect the marine environment that came into effect three weeks after the splashdown.

Bill C-15, which became law May 20, imposes hefty fines — a minimum of $500,000 for the most serious offences — on ships that dump oil and other toxic substances in waters off Canada's coasts.


Gerry said...

According to some reports, the U.S. has been doing this for decades off our coast. The total number of boosters on the bottom has been estimated by some sources as high as 15.

Thats a lot of "Killer Soup". No wonder the cod stocks started disappearing so fast in the 80's and aren't recovering to any real degree.

It might be interesting for some marine biologists to start looking for some of these chemical markers in the cod caught in the area. You might never see it if you don't look for it.

Ed Hollett said...

Did the rocket impact within Canada's 200 mile EEZ?

If so then the federal legislation applies.

I'd agree we should be concerned about pollution of the oceans, but where should we start? One rocket? One harbour? One oilfield?

Patriot said...


According to the Globe article, the booster did indeed land within the 200 mile limit.

As for where we start, good question, but where ever it is, we have to start somewhere. This might be a good one to start with.

Patriot said...

FYI - Special thanks to the Canadian Democratic Movement web site for requesting permission to pick up and re-publishing this article.

Thanks guys.

Mike said...

Another typical case of use us and abuse us. Thanks Ottawa (and the U.S)