How this military explosive is poisoning American soil

The bomb that went off twice:
In our latest ProPublica collaboration, we report on RDX, one of the world’s most powerful conventional explosives developed by the U.S. military. But it’s now believed by many to cause cancer, and is increasingly turning up in drinking water supplies near military sites across the country.
Check out the full ProPublica piece at for the in-depth reporting, and stay tuned for more stories in this collaboration! If you'd like to sign up to receive more ProPublica journalism, go here:
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It was a secret world war two project . with an urgent mission develop a . powerful new bomb to fend off the . germans who were threatening the . european continent british scientists . tried to perfect a chemical bond they . referred to as research department . explosive or rdx nearly twice as . powerful as tnt rdx most powerful . explosive in existence it's so dangerous . in the raw state that it must be stored . underwater but they needed thousands of . tons to win the war and they couldn't . make it fast enough . that is until american chemists figured. out a way to mass-produce it a team of . scientists secretly assembled by the . government invented a new process to . manufacture these super explosives . churning out hundreds of tons in a day . rdx transformed weapons overnight half . of the american bazooka it enabled the . world's first handheld rocket launcher . to pierce armor it was packed into a . 10,000 pound underwater bomb it was . disguised as pancake mix in an operation . called the aunt jemima project rdx . spawned the greatest period of military . manufacturing in history but half a . century later the ingenious chemicals . that boosted the us military are . inflicting aftershocks in our own. backyards rdx is a dangerous pollutant . that's found its way into our soils and . drinking water supplies and the . environmental protection agency has been . tasked with figuring out exactly how . much of a health risk it poses to us and . how much of the mess the government . needs to clean up . here's what we know about the unique . environmental threat that is rdx the . first series of long-term experiments . was conducted by the pentagon in the . 1980s they fed high doses of rdx to rats . and mice and watched them for two years . as the dosage increased the rdx made . them agitated their hearts became . enlarged their eyes grew discolored then . opaque of the hundreds of animals they . experimented on with the highest doses . about half died of these mice with . moderate to heavy doses one in six . females grew rare tumors on their livers. or lungs roughly half of which were . malignant liver cancer was also noted in . the male rats so it all added up to a . statistically significant and alarming . sign that rdx could cause cancer in . people but the studies were never. peer-reviewed or published after the . military shared its final reports with. the epa the agency classified rdx as a . possible human carcinogen in 1990 a. warning that it was potentially . dangerous and deserved more study it . came at a time when rdx contamination. was cropping up at sites across the. country at bomb-making plants and . testing ranges it spread into the soil . and water supplies take the case of . mapleton utah with quaint homes and. gardens where residents grew their own. food at least until 1997 when residents . got a letter from the nearby trojan . plant which was contracted by the . military to manufacture and recycled. bomb materials the letter said don't be . alarmed but if you use the water from . your well for culinary purposes we ask . that you contact us immediately for at . least 20 years the trojan plant . discarded waste including pure rdx and . de pons and an unlined irrigation ditch . six neighbors all living within a . quarter-mile of that ditch had developed . cancer since living there and they found . out the trojan plant was well aware of . the ground water rdx pollution years . before they told the residents but to . hold the company accountable for their . cancers their residents needed to prove . the dangers of rdx itself a professor . they hired linked two of the compounds . found in rdx with the type of cancer . that several the mapleton residents had . he calculated mapleton had twice as many . cases of non-hodgkins lymphoma and three . times as many cases of leukemia than . would have been expected in the area his . team concluded that residents got their . cancer by eating food grown with rdx . contaminated water vegetables seemed to . concentrate the chemicals and amplify. their exposure calculations suggested . eating a carrot from one of their . gardens was 286 times worse than simply . drinking the rdx contaminated water but. the mapleton case never made it to trial . in 2002 the plant settled with the . families for an undisclosed amount of . money without admitting guilt and . several the plaintiffs have died today . the pentagon continues to manufacture . rdx and uses it widely and the number of . communities that face environmental . threats from it has continued to grow . rdx has been found everywhere from wells . near fort jackson in columbia south . carolina to the drinking water near . kingsport tennessee and the groundwater . across an old missile factory near los . angeles in fact for the first time we . know the extent of the u. s. military's . role as a polluter for pública got data . pinpointing thousands of sites across. the country where the government has . identified pollution on defense . properties there are more than 150 cases . with rdx contamination for decades as . these cases were documented the us . military claimed immunity from epa . oversight and tried to evade . environmental regulations which would. force them to clean it up but in 2012 . the epa decided it would reassess the. risks the chemical posed to people and. so they began a new review on everything. we know about rdx if the epa decided to . regulate rdx is a chemical contaminant . that would mean an enormous increase for . the pentagon's environmental cleanup. bill which is already at around 70 . billion dollars the final results are . still to come but as the epa conducts . its review there's one thing that's. still missing credible science if the . government wants evidence of whether rdx . is connected to cancer the best way is . to replicate the earlier controlled . experiments with live mice and rats but . that has never been done instead the. department of defense has conducted. dozens of studies that cast doubt on rdx . effects and support the pentagon's. position that it poses little public . threat. these studies were funded by the . military an agency with a stake in the . outcome of the epa's decision so there's . skepticism about the objectivity but . that doesn't automatically mean their . research isn't good science some were . even validated through peer review even . though the epa appeared ready in 2013 to . label rdx a likely carcinogen it is now . poised to downplay its risk with a tag . that says it's merely suggestive of . cancer the agency is set to decide the. fate of rdx next year now under the. trump administration there are concerns . that the sole agency responsible for . informing the american public about . environmental health risk is bowing . under pressure from the department of . defense and the chemical industry . 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