EPA declines to regulate toxic chemical left at Mount Rushmore after 11 years of fireworks

Perchlorate, which is now in the water at the park after fireworks shows, has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The National Park Service is planning to conduct another fireworks show at Mount Rushmore National Memorial on July 3, 2020.

One of the reasons for prohibiting massive fireworks displays over the faces of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore National Memorial is that the previous 11 fireworks shows between 1998 and 2009 contaminated the water at the memorial. The fireworks explosions left perchlorate on the ground which has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage, and it worked its way into the water table. In 2016 a  USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter was measured in stream samples at Mount Rushmore between 2011 and 2015. That was about 270 times higher than in samples collected from sites outside the memorial, which were 0.2 micrograms per liter.

In recent months the Environmental Protection Agency was considering  establishing a limit on perchlorate of 56 micrograms per liter, almost 4 times higher than the limit of 15 proposed by the administration in 2009, but it was never implemented. If adopted, the new limit would have been a policy statement by the administration that the extremely high perchlorate levels caused by the fireworks were acceptable, but just barely — by 2 micrograms per liter.

But the EPA announced June 18, 16 days before the scheduled July 3, 2020 fireworks show, that they will not regulate perchlorate, period. This makes it easier for the Governor of South Dakota and the President, who both pushed to resume the fireworks shows, to feel they have eliminated one of the barriers to continuing the explosions over the four faces.

The negative aspects of exploding fireworks over the sculpture, as learned from the 11 times it has been done in the past, include two other issues in addition to carcinogens in the water:

1. Wildfires
During those 11 events at least 20 documented wildfires were ignited by the fireworks in the middle of the wildfire season.

2. Garbage
The trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Left on the ground are unexploded shells, wadding, plastic, ash, pieces of the devices, and paper; stuff that can never be totally removed in the very steep, rocky, rugged terrain.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “EPA declines to regulate toxic chemical left at Mount Rushmore after 11 years of fireworks”

  1. At a MINIMUM they should at least post some signs warning pregnant women and infants to not drink from the streams in the area!

  2. suryasmiles – great idea. If enough firefighters would boycott it, they couldn’t be fired because they’re too badly needed.

  3. I say all fire fighters boycott Mt Rushmore firework displays until the EPA reverses this decision. Why should they put their lives on the line?

  4. It is such a shame to NOT take into account the damage done by fireworks. There are other areas that could be
    used. Why does anyone need to ruin so much, for fireworks that could be done elsewhere? Damage is being
    done to the land,water,and monument for a quick show? It is creating toxic waste and starting wildfires. The
    cost is way too high. How can the administration be so short sighted? Can’t one just enjoy the sculptures
    without destroying land, resources and causing fires? The cost is just too high. Once they turn the area into a
    toxic mess and loose several firefighters along the way then they will stop? Fireworks in the area have NO
    place there .

    1. Completely agree with you, Virginia. Such a high cost for the environment and the safety of wildland crews to appease the ego of the worst president in U.S. history.


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