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NASA spewed many tons of heavy metals into Florida wildlife areas

Heavy metals

(NaturalNews) America's space program has long stood as a national icon of pride and technological progress. But NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, where 135 space shuttles have been launched since 1981, has also been a major environmental polluter, dumping untold tons of heavy metals into nearby swamps and wetlands inhabited by alligators and other endangered species.

A new report explains that each space shuttle launch at the center has resulted in the spewing of thousands of pounds of iron, mercury and various other heavy metals. And the animals living in and around this facility, which is surrounded by one of Florida's last protected saltwater ecosystems, have borne the brunt of this pollution, accumulating these toxins into their bodies.

"People think of a shuttle launch as a short-term, finite event, but each launch expels a huge amount of debris into the atmosphere with the potential for long-term effects on the surrounding ecosystem," stated John Bowden, an environmental chemist at the Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, to Environmental Health News.

One of the most affected creatures in the region is the alligator, which unlike birds cannot easily escape the area during shuttle launches. According to the report, a shower of metals blankets the wetlands areas around the Kennedy Space Center after each launch, acidifying the water and harming gators, which are considered to be the ecosystem's top predators.

Tests determined that many gators in the area suffer from high levels of iron in their livers, as well as overactive thyroid glands. Since the thyroid gland regulates hormone production and bodily growth and development, the effect of this change is smaller, unhealthier gators. And there are more than 1,500 other species of plants and animals living in the area, including 14 at risk of extinction, that have also been exposed.

"Some of the heavy metals we saw are clearly not supposed to be there in the environment," stated Louis Guillette, a zoologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, about the pollution. Guillette has been studying alligators in the area for years, observing high levels of not only mercury and iron but also lithium, bismuth and nickel.

Will refuge's 14 endangered species survive man's quest to conquer space?

While the federal government's acquisition of the land area, which is surrounded by the 35-mile-long Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, helped protect it against development, the consequences of ongoing shuttle launches are, perhaps, even more problematic. The steady stream of pollutants that has rained down on the area over the past several decades could be causing irreversible damage in the form of habitat destruction.

Water collected from 11 sites after 41 shuttle launches between 1996 and 2009 revealed a substantial increase in four different metals, including manganese, aluminum, iron and zinc. Levels of these metals rose between 37 and 175 percent immediately following the launches, after which they subsided. But these metals have to be going somewhere, say researchers.

"While there could be several natural and anthropogenic sources for metal deposition at KSC, the data in this report indicate that shuttle launch events are a significant source," reads the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Though the shuttle program ended in 2011, the site will eventually be used for other missions, hence the importance of addressing the issue now. As one of the few remaining pristine wildlife areas on Florida's eastern coast, protecting this natural habitat from future contamination will ensure that its endangered species don't go the way of the dodo bird.

For more information and breaking news on heavy metals, visit HeavyMetals.NaturalNews.com.

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