Evidence suggests that water at Mount Rushmore contaminated by fireworks displays

The U.S. Geological Survey has determined that fireworks ruined the water.

mount rushmore fireworks
Photo showing Mount Rushmore fireworks with burning embers hitting the ground. Photo: South Dakota Tourism

Between 1998 and 2009 the park Superintendents at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota thought it would be cool to explode tons, yes, tons of fireworks over the top of the memorial around July 4. For those 12 years tens of thousands of dollars, much of it donated, and thousands of person hours were spent on this ridiculous display. Superintendents Dan Wenk and Gerard Butler promoted and encouraged the program that started numerous fires, rained down tons of debris, and now we’re finding out, poisoned the water with chemicals.

Mount Rushmore fireworks debris
Some of the debris and trash at the launch site of the fireworks at Mount Rushmore. Screen shot from the video below.

The USGS discovered that the ground and surface water at Mount Rushmore is contaminated with percholrate, a component of rocket fuels and explosives. They determined that the chemical came from the fireworks over that 12-year period.

Data from the USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter was measured in a stream sample, which is about 270 times higher than that in samples collected from sites outside the memorial. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of perchlorates can affect the thyroid gland, which in turn can alter the function of many organs in the body. The fetus and young children can be especially susceptible.

The park provides drinking water to about 3 million visitors and personnel every year. Its superintendent, Cheryl Schreier, said Monday that the park will continue to strive to provide drinking water that “meets and exceeds current standards.”

But the USGS report says perchlorate in drinking water is not currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As Fire Management Officer for Mount Rushmore and six other national parks in the greater Black Hills during five of those years when fireworks were exploded over the monument, it was my job to plan for suppression of the fires that started when burning embers hit the ground. We mobilized dozens of firefighters during the busy part of the fire season and had them positioned just outside the falling-debris zone. After the aerial explosions ended, we would move in, search at night in the steep rocky terrain, and extinguish the fires.

In one of the first years, there were over a dozen that were found. They were all put out when they were small, but it was an insane concept to shoot off tons of fireworks over a Ponderosa pine forest in July. The park is not just the stone carving; it has 1,200 acres of trees and other vegetation surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest. I made my opinion known, but it carried little weight compared to the GS-15 Superintendents and other government executives.

Aside from the impractical aspects of fires, cost, and ruining the water, the esthetics of the display were disrespectful and distasteful — explosions over the faces of Presidents Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln — raining down unexploded shells, wadding, ash, pieces of the devices, paper, and poisonous chemicals; stuff than can never be completely picked up in the rugged terrain. From certain angles, it looked like the rockets were coming out of the tops of the Presidents’ heads.

The whole thing was, and still is, disgusting.

Stick figure fireworks safety

I’m thinking the BLM did not waste a lot of money producing this 36-second public service announcement, but I like it, and it could be effective. Nicely done, BLM!


(UPDATE at 11:18 a.m. PT, July 1, 2015)

After we posted the video, Kevin Conran of the BLM left this comment:

Thank you for the compliments on our PSAs. As you surmised this was very low cost to produce. It was actually produced by a local high school student. We hosted a contest among the high school speech/communications classes and challenged them to produce PSAs aimed at reaching their age group.

Trial begins for man accused of starting Bear Trap 2 Fire

Bear Trap 2 Fire
Bear Trap 2 Fire. Inciweb photo by Ken Harris.

A trial began on Monday in Virginia City, Montana for a man facing multiple felony counts for allegedly starting the Bear Trap 2 Fire west of Bozeman, Montana in June, 2012. Kyler Schmitz is accused of starting the fire when fireworks he was using ignited vegetation, ultimately burning 15,341 acres of private, Bureau of Land Management, and State owned land. The fire cost more than $1.2 million to suppress.

BLM may ban fireworks in Colorado

In a surprising announcement, the Bureau of Land Management is proposing to ban all fireworks on the 8.3 million acres of land it manages in Colorado. The surprising part is that they have been allowing fireworks at all. Current BLM rules in the state only prohibit fireworks in developed campgrounds and on a seasonal basis when there is high fire danger.

If the new policy is adopted, it will bring the BLM rules in line with other land management agencies in the state.

The public can comment on the proposal until August 9. Wildfire Today’s comment: yes, ban fireworks. Geeze. You had to ask?

Arizona approves fireworks, bans human-animal hybrids

Florida used to be the state that produced weird news, but recently it has been Arizona that has been capturing the headlines. Governor Jan Brewer recently signed into law dozens of bills, one of which allows the sale of certain kinds of fireworks, including ground and hand-held devices such as sparklers, spinning wheels, and smoke devices. The law bans fireworks intended to rise above the ground, such as bottle rockets or roman candles. It allows cities to ban the use of fireworks within their boundaries. Bobby Ruiz, an Assistant Chief for the Phoenix Fire Department said, “Now, we’re going to have more kids with matches and playing with fireworks that put out a lot of sparks and easily ignite dry vegetation.”

Another law signed by the governor bans the use of human embryos for creating “human-animal hybrids”.  Whew. I’m glad she took care of that issue.

BC fire chiefs aim to totally ban all fireworks

An article at ArrowLakesNews.com covers the effort to ban all fireworks in British Columbia:

The Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia (FCABC) is trying to ban fireworks permanently throughout the province, and after much debate, the Nakusp council will not be sending a letter of support.

Bruce Mabin, zone four director of the FCABC, wrote that a bylaw should be drafted in each area around the Kootenays banning the sale and distribution entirely.

“It is our belief that the annual increased level for wildland fires each year in our areas makes the use of consumer fireworks a constant threat for instigation of a wildfire,” he wrote.

Nakusp fire chief Terry Warren said it’s just not worth it, because in his opinion the risk isn’t worth the reward.

“They’re just too dangerous,” he said. “The biggest issue is in the fire-ban season, when people from other provinces see these fireworks for sale and start setting them off. It’s a problem throughout the province.”

According to the FCABC, 8,000 children are injured and 20 people die each year in North America from improper fireworks use.

Roughly 120 amputations occur annually to the hands and fingers.

The rest of the article is here.

Wildfire Today has written about the fireworks problem many times.