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At least 23 drinking water wells have been contaminated with perchlorate in the San Gabriel Valley, most of which are situated in the Azusa and Baldwin Park area. The first system to clean up the perchlorate was installed in 2001 with four currently in place. These ion exchange technology-driven systems cost more than $17 million to construct and cost about $5 million a year to operate. By 2024, EPA estimates that the cost of cleaning perchlorate out of the San Gabriel Valley groundwater is staggering – more than $200 million to clean the groundwater of perchlorate and other contaminants just at the Baldwin Park water remediation station alone.


Over 40,000 people of the Mojave Desert town of Barstow learned about perchlorate the hard way in November 2011. The town, which is exactly midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, suddenly became aware of a perchlorate contamination plume that had first been detected from a test on the Soap Mine Road Well which had high perchlorate. For days thousands of people were forced to queue up in long lines for hours to get drinking water that was being hauled into the city on an emergency basis because a number of wells in town used for potable water were testing higher than California’s drinking water limit of 6 ppb for perchlorate.

Investigators for the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board found the source of the perchlorate about a mile away at the private home of a long-deceased man who used to own the Mojave River Pyrotechnics Company. Apparently, after his company went bankrupt in the 1980s, the man buried much of the leftover perchlorate in his back yard on Poplar Lane near the usually dry wash that is the Mojave River.

Perchlorate, which is very mobile and persistent in nature, was eventually mapped out underground with the majority of the goo within an area about 1,400 feet wide and 3,500 feet long. Groundwater, obviously a precious commodity in the desert, was found with perchlorate as high as 110,000 ppb or over 18,000 times the California’s perchlorate drinking water standard. Soil came in at more than 500,000 ppb in the worst hit dumps on the property.

Just cleaning up the soil will cost millions according to the EPA. The groundwater remediation would be a much greater challenge and take far longer.


Perchlorate is also used in missile fuel as an oxidizer and, just like in fireworks, burns fast and hot. That legacy has left aerospace-related sites like Aerojet Chino Hills massively contaminated with the toxin. When LA Weekly exposed perchlorate pollution at the facility in May 2000 followed by OC Weekly, it helped precipitate $46 million worth of cleanup. The property still isn’t fully free of perchlorate, depleted uranium and unexploded ordnance debris and remains a sore spot with a number of residents in the region.

Closer to Los Angeles 35 northwest of downtown is the Santa Susana Field Laboratory which, besides being infamous for being the site of the country’s worst partial nuclear meltdown in 1959, is polluted by perchlorate. Over 30,000 rocket test took place at the 2,850-acre aerospace complex which had gigantic rocket test stands, many of which are still standing today amidst land impacted by perchlorate.

The perchlorate in the fuel fired off testing rockets like the Atlas, Thor and Saturn, left the test stands, buildings, land and groundwater highly contaminated. In 2004, data showed perchlorate in Building 359, on the property now owned by Boeing, as having 34 of 90 samples contaminated with perchlorate so high that they all exceeded “field action levels” where immediate action is mandatory. One sample came back positive for 71,290 ppb of perchlorate.

Perchlorate is a chemical of concern for many Southern Californians because of its widespread fouling of the environment and its effects on the development of the very young and young. These illustrations point to the seriousness of the chemical, especially when large amounts of it are being used in a semi-enclosed space for optional spectacle.

A decade-long struggle over developing Ahmanson Ranch began coming to a head in 2002. There on land bordering Rocketdyne’s southern buffer zone, now-defunct Washington Mutual was on its way to building 3,050 homes in a huge $2 billion development until media pressure forced the company to test its groundwater. “WaMu” had planned to use 660,000 gallons of the groundwater each day to irrigate it common areas, parks and playgrounds.

When one of the wells came back positive with 28 ppb of perchlorate, and Rocketdyne Ranch exposed that and other contamination problems with the property, the public outcry grew and the company begrudgingly accepted an offer of $150 million to give the land to the state which turned it into the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve. It is the largest single public acquisition of land in the history of both Ventura and Los Angeles counties.


A May 2007 study by the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Oklahoma City made the danger of perchlorate in fireworks abundantly clear. “Perchlorate Behavior in a Municipal Lake Following Fireworks Displays” showed that after a fireworks show, the lake’s water had 24 to 1,028 times the baseline amount of perchlorate. It took 20 to 80 days for the perchlorate concentrations to return to background.

That the perchlorate usage is not listed in the Farmers Field EIR, let alone admitted to, creates another challenge in the EIR: mitigation. Without acknowledging the perchlorate-based fireworks, there can be no discussion of how to mitigate them. Indeed, the EIR says as much.

“There are no feasible mitigation measures that would reduce impacts associated with the parking garage and firework displays to a less than significant level,” the DEIR stated. “Impacts related to fireworks displays would be limited (up to 35 shows per year) and of short duration (up to 20 minutes per display show) but would still be significant and unavoidable.”

Activists say that AEG should have considered going greener with Farmers Field fireworks. “Fortunately, there is a better way to mitigate the amounts you use with ‘green fireworks’ or the lower-emission fireworks,” says Argüello. “That technology is readily available from Disney, as I understand, and that’s what they use. They do very elaborate close to ground level fireworks everyday so they’ve developed where you’re using a lot less of the propellant to get the fireworks into the air which is where a lot of those emissions come from.”

Disneyland holds fireworks shows over 230 nights of the year. Responding to numerous complaints since 1991 to the South Coast Air Quality Management District citing ash, smoke, smell and property damage from falling firecracker shells, Disney switched to compressed air in 2004 to shoot up about 350 shells used per show. By removing the gunpowder propellant, much of the smoke that clouds traditional fireworks shows doesn’t exist making the flashes and pyrotechnics brighter.

In its first year alone, Disney ditched 30,000 pounds of the 90,000 pounds it used in 2003, a significant reduction of a third. The company has offered the use of its compressed-air launch design system to other fireworks-using entertainment centers license fee free.

“[AEG] also needs to look into mitigation measures such as air launch technology that can reduce the amount of perchlorate emitted into the air,” says Lyou. “As an entity that wants to be an environmental leader, I would encourage AEG to take a hard look at this issue as well as other air quality issues associated with their Farmers Field project.”

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  1. Even Phil Anschutz sees his downtown collection of Vegas-type entertainment/sports venues as a liability. So he is selling them. Perhaps LA officials can take a hint.
    The best way to do what you want is to just do it. It is easier to apologize than ask for permission. And so it goes with the toxic fireworks. The less said, the better.

  2. No reason then to continue to use this heavy metal in the fireworks as there are alternatives. However, it begs the question; Why do they insist to continue? Well, there is another rabbit hole to go down starting with the word “Agenda”? Thank you Michael for the great article!

  3. Judging from the dearth of media coverage of this amazing discovery, it appears Collins is right about the press (mainstream and otherwise) being too “enfeebled to expose it.” That won’t, however, make the problem go away even if this dirty secret is swept under the football field. The law is the law. If this plan to use who-knows-how-much perchlorate in the fireworks at Farmers Field is pushed through by the Los Angeles city council without coming to a full-stop by requiring AEG to pony up with the toxic numbers, there could be big trouble. Low income (and high income) residents won’t even know about this stealthy perchlorate plan unless the public and community advocates make a stink about it and demand that the fireworks are pollution free. Surely, the money spent actually becoming the environmental leader in fireworks displays and new technology grand entertainment would cost AEG significantly less money than the cost that could face the company when the wafts of perchlorate and heavy metals begin impacting people from the day the place opens. It costs the city council nothing to stand up for the health and well being of the visitors to Farmers Field and the neighborhoods around it by requiring AEG to release the true ingredients (and amounts) in the fireworks and then demanding that the company go back to the drawing board to make sure that they be made harmless. This would make AEG and the city of LA the leaders in ‘green fireworks’ far more than the happiest kingdom on earth which still uses perchlorate yet touts its less smoky pyrotechnics. We deserve no less. The people fighting this fraudulent environmental impact report deserve no less. They must demand these fundamental changes before it is too late.

  4. Another excellent expose’ by Mr. Collins.

    This explains why I’ve noticed an increase in particulate pollution in air-quality-animated-maps after holidays/occasions where fireworks were used.

    ( Each state’s environmental department should have its own animated map that you can google to find, but here’s one for the U.S. — http://airnow.gov/ )

  5. Interesting how the trolls (Scott S. Smith) are always the first to jump on the truth with their ludicrous, vicious, and psychopathic comments. Anyone want to place bets that HE doesn’t live next to the proposed stadium?

  6. @SS Smith: there is a large body of research on the toxicity of heavy metals from exploded fireworks from within the water quality field. As a result of tested, peer-reviewed scientific evidence, many cities (particularly in the Great Lakes region) have already taken steps to change the types of fireworks used or ban them if non-toxic ones aren’t available. Your rhetoric and insults are infantile and aren’t going to bait anyone to respond in kind. Instead, you are providing a platform for a deeper discussion of the scientific soundness behind Michael’s pieces.

  7. If being a ‘red-blooded’ American means ‘symbols’ are more important than the health of children, then please count me out.

    I am ‘Earthling’ first!

    Borders are imaginary lines.

  8. Every time I read an article on perchlorate use, I’m reminded afresh of how stupid people are. In particular, it’s amazing how anything but profits are ignored by the tools running these large corporations.

  9. @Scott S. Smith – not sure what you are promoting here – if fire works are a symbol of freedom – can’t they also be in a form that would not contain perchlorate and not endanger the health of Americans?

    Michael Collins has done a lot of research and given a rational and in depth account of this problem – name calling has no place in an intelligent conversation on how to protect people’s air and water from a dangerous substance.

    Thank goodness we have Michael who is willing to take the time and energy to investigate yet another threat to the health of the environment and the American people. Why on earth would anyone “put him in jail”? Michael is doing what very few people are doing – watching out for our environment and telling us about what he finds. We are incredibly fortunate to have him in our lives.

  10. No red-blooded American should stand for regulating fireworks of any color–they’re the symbol of freedom and anarchy is one of the founding principles of this country. I think Collins should be deported to whatever socialist country his ancestors claim to be from and he can argue his pinko theories there, if they don’t put him in jail first.

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