Fire Water!

Disney to fire off safer fireworks, but perchlorates still taint Anaheim wells

Call it a coincidence of magical proportions.

On May 30, with little fanfare--and without so much as a press release--Anaheim's Disneyland Resort discontinued its hugely popular but smoky fireworks show, "Believe: There's Magic in the Stars." On Friday, Disney will unveil a new, less smoky fireworks display called "Imagine: A Fantasy in the Sky," which will continue nightly through Labor Day.

The Magic Kingdom's new and improved fireworks show will use less perchlorate, a pyrotechnic compound found in fireworks and rocket fuel that has been linked to birth defects in human embryos and thyroid disorders in adults. (In fireworks, perchlorate causes the loud boom that dazzles audiences).

The decision follows last year's passage of California Assembly Bill 826, the Perchlorate Contamination Prevention Act, which seeks to eliminate high levels of perchlorate that has contaminated much of the state's drinking water in recent years.

It also comes amid rising pressure to stop using perchlorates from some of the theme park's neighbors. For the past several weeks, a local residents group, Anaheim Homeowners Maintaining Their Environment (HOME), has placed a "health warning" in the Anaheim Bulletin community newspaper that states the city's water "contains significant levels of perchlorates . . . dangerous chemicals that in very small amounts can cause birth defects and other serious health problems."

But a Disneyland spokesman denied the resort's decision had anything to do with controversy about perchlorates or HOME's health warnings.

"The change in our fireworks show . . . was made to take advantage of new air-launch technology, which makes launching pyrotechnics safer and with significantly less smoke," said media-relations director Bob Tucker. "The show change had nothing to do about any claims of perchlorates, which I am told are nearly totally consumed during the launch of fireworks and pose no threat."

Apparently, the city of Anaheim agrees.

Donald Calkins, Anaheim's Public Utilities Department's assistant general manager for water services, claimed in a May 20 letter to HOME that the perchlorate levels in the city's water supply were within safe levels.

"Your inference that the perchlorate levels in Anaheim water pose a health threat to Anaheim's water consumers is completely without merit," Calkins wrote. "We are well aware of Anaheim HOME's long-standing concern regarding Disneyland fireworks. It appears that you are now using water quality as a means of garnering attention for your cause. We are disturbed that you have resorted to the use of scare tactics and are quite concerned that you are misleading people about the safety of Anaheim's water supply in order to achieve a political purpose."

But an Aug. 5, 2003, memo to the City Council written by Marcie Edwards, Anaheim's public utilities general manager, reveals that during that year, the city restricted the use of six local wells because of perchlorate contamination.

"Orange County Water District, the agency responsible for recharging water and managing the groundwater basin, has found no evidence of any local industrial contamination and has concluded that the trace levels of perchlorate that have been observed have resulted from the long-term recharge of the Colorado River water," Edwards wrote.

The memo also reveals that the city considered cleaning up the contaminated wells but opted not to for financial reasons.

"The consultant estimated that these treatment systems could cost over $10 million per well site," Edwards wrote. "Since these costs could cause a 15 [percent] to 25 percent increase in water rates and the California Department of Health Services does not consider the levels of perchlorate in Anaheim's water to pose a health risk, it would not be prudent to implement treatment at this time."

Bottoms up!

 
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