News | Dec 13, 2018

Navy offers perchlorate-free pyrotechnics to industry as EPA prepares new regs

Widely used oxidizer contaminates groundwater, compromises hormone production in the thyroid

News Article Image of Navy offers perchlorate-free pyrotechnics to industry as EPA prepares new regs

Students attending the Naval Survival Training Institute learn to use MK-124 signal flares.

Michael Lieberknecht/Navy

With a fresh set of regulations on the way, a Navy laboratory is reminding businesses that it has developed perchlorate-free chemistries available for use in a number of commercial applications.

Perchlorate is an industrial chemical used as an oxidizer in rocket fuel, explosives, fireworks, and signal flares.

This spring, after first announcing its intent in 2011, the EPA will begin regulating drinking water levels of perchlorate; several states have already issued rules.

That’s because perchlorate can block the human thyroid gland from absorbing iodine, which disrupts production of hormones that manage heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

According to the EPA, “people are exposed to perchlorate primarily through eating contaminated food or drinking water.” A 2005 survey identified perchlorate in the drinking water of 160 public water systems spread across the country.

In the mid-2000s, scientists at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, began designing perchlorate-free signal flares.

Warfighters employ flares in training and on the battlefield. During night operations, illumination flares that hang from parachutes are fired into the air to help ground forces identify targets. Downed aircrews use red flares to signal help. And flares are used to distract heat-seeking missiles away from aircraft.

“Because we have removed all of the perchlorates out of the composition itself the risk of contamination is no longer there,” said Christina Yamamoto, a chemist at the Navy center who worked on the research project.

The pyrotechnic compositions that Yamamoto and her colleagues invented are covered by U.S. patents, which creates an opportunity.

Businesses, large or small, can license the patents and bring the new compositions to market for civilian or military customers, said Sean Patten, senior technology manager at TechLink.

TechLink is experienced in connecting federally owned inventions with industry partners that can transition the government’s research and development into new products or services. Through express licensing, businesses or an entrepreneur who wants to burst onto the fireworks market can acquire a green perchlorate-free flare license for $2,000.

“In concert with the lab, we’re reminding the business community that Navy chemists have developed high-performance perchlorate-free oxidizers,” Patten said.

Contact Sean Patten, spatten@montana.edu or 406-994-7721.

Headshot Image of Sean Patten, CLP

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