The improper disposal of flares contaminates groundwater with a toxic chemical called perchlorate. When people are exposed to high levels of perchlorate, the chemical can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iodine and therefore has a negative impact on thyroid function. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate a person’s metabolism including heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and the pace at which food is converted into energy. In infants, thyroid hormones impact growth and nervous system development.
In 2005, the state of Rhode Island did a study examining perchlorate levels in a state reservoir that is flanked by two major highways. Rhode Island is particularly concerned about perchlorate levels because 70% of the population relies on this reservoir. The study specifically calculates the volume of water that is contaminated by one unburned flare that is not disposed of properly. (240,000 gallons)