Pyrotechnics are hand-thrown military training devices used to simulate battlefield noises and effects during training. These devices help prepare soldiers for the rigors of combat by simulating the stress and confusion of artillery and hand grenade explosions—an important aspect of military training. Realistic training is a critical component of soldier training, and factors that create realism—smoke, dust, noise, and pressure—all help create the confusion associated with realistic battle conditions. Many of the tasks that soldiers are required to train on prior to deployment concentrate on reaction to contact, and combat contact normally takes the form of an explosion from either indirect fire or an improvised explosive device, or IED. Pyrotechnics can be used to simulate IEDs, which have caused 80 percent of the US casualties in Afghanistan.
In 1997, the use of artillery and grenade simulator devices at Camp Edwards was suspended after the Environmental Protection Agency issued Administrative Order 2. One of the constituents in the pyrotechnics, perchlorate, was of particular concern due to its solubility and potential effects on human health.
The M116A1 Hand Grenade Simulator has been reformulated by the Dept of the Army and is now perchlorate free. The basic reformulation is primarily composed of environmentally benign, biodegradable constituents. The simulators are constructed of cardboard tubes that contain a black powder and aluminum mixture, along with sodium salicylate, (a substance used as a pain reliever), red gum (eucalyptus), potassium chlorate, which is the same constituent as in matches and ultimately breaks down to oxygen and potassium chloride (a naturally occurring mineral), dextrin (breakdown product of starch), and potassium nitrate (a naturally occurring mineral used as a fertilizer).
The Massachusetts National Guard is committed to providing the best pre-mobilization training available to ensure its soldiers are well prepared for combat missions and as part of that commitment, the Guard announced in 2008 its intent to pursue the use of newly-reformulated pyrotechnic simulators in training at Camp Edwards. These new, more environmentally friendly pyrotechnics will greatly enhance the realism of pre-mobilization training at Camp Edwards.
The Approval Process
In order to use the newly reformulated pyrotechnics, the Guard is must gain approval by the state's Environmental Management Commission (EMC) and the US EPA. The Environmental Performance Standards, which guide use of the training area, also known as the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, of which the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) has oversight, states that “… simulated munitions may be used in areas outside of the small arms ranges, using blank ammunition and simulated munitions identified on an approved list of munitions.”
The standards also state that the EMC and the Massachusetts National Guard Environmental & Readiness Center (E&RC) will conduct a joint review and approval for the inclusion of any new munitions on Camp Edward 's approved munitions list. The EPA's Administrative Order 2 requires that the use of pyrotechnics in training “does not present a threat of harm to the public or the environment that would warrant its continued suspension under this order.”
The Guard has been working with the EPA and the EMC on concurrent approval processes with the goal for grenade simulator use in Spring 2010. The Guard's expert technical review confirm that training can be done while protecting the drinking water supply and wildlife habitat.
The EMC's Science Advisory Counci l (SAC) also reviewed information on the simulators and both it and the Community Advisory Council voted unanimously to support the use of the grenade simulators. As part of the review the Science Advisory Council suggested that the Guard examine the presence of potassium chlorate (KC103) in the simulators. Chlorate is used in the ignitor as an oxidizing agent in the simulators—causing combustion. Its use in the simulator is similar to striking a match; in fact, each simulator has only 36 milligrams of potassium chlorate, the same amount as in three to four safety matches.
When calculating how much chlorate could potentially enter the environment at Camp Edwards, it was determined that the most conservative, worst case scenario, even using 0 % efficiency of combustion and no photodegradation of the chlorate would be 0.009 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in the groundwater. The World Health Organization's Drinking Water Guideline is 0.7 mg/L for potassium chlorate; the state of California has a “notification level” of 0.8 mg/L for drinking water.
In compliance with the Environmental Performance Standards and Camp Edwards Range Regulations, there will be no grenade simulator use in wetland buffer areas, in water supply Zone 1 areas, in noise sensitive areas, such as near the base boundary, or when conditions indicate a fire hazard. In addition, soldiers will police up debris as required by regulation and policy.
On December 9, 2009, the EMC unanimously approved the use of the M116A1 Hand Grenade Simulator at Camp Edwards. The EMC adapted the SAC and CAC's recommendation that the Guard review updated information on the use of the simulators in two years. This review would be used to confirm information on the use of the grenade simulators and further verify their use is protective of the groundwater and wildlife habitat.
A petition was submitted on October 26, 2009 to EPA Region 1 asking it to amend Administrative Order 2 to allow use of the M116A1 Hand Grenade Simulator at Camp Edwards.