The Polish ministry of defense has gathered a special task force together after George W. Bush ordered a crippled US spy satellite be shot down. The resulting toxic fumes will rain down on central Poland. Are Poles in danger? Hmm...
The TVN Fakt news program, which ran the story first item on Friday evening, said the resulting fumes from the fuel onboard could be a threat to our health! So the government is getting organized - just in case.
A satellite launched in 2006 by the US immediately mis-functioned and has been staggering around in a wobbly orbit ever since.
The Whitehouse finally ordered it be shot down sometime next week, so worried are they, apparently, that the lemon satellite will have an ‘unpredictable re-entry’ next month and come crashing down on someone’s house, or head, and unleash kiloliters of the dangerous, ‘highly toxic’ rocket fuel hydrazine.
Blimey! Worse – experts in this type of thing have worked out that after the US zaps the satellite the resulting vapor trail of scary hydrazine will be sprayed over an area covering central Poland.
So how lethal is hydrazine? The Theoretical and Physical Chemistry Lab says on its web site that it is “Harmful if inhaled or swallowed.” Wikipedia, via the Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Web Site (for it is they) says:
Individuals may be exposed to hydrazine in the workplace or to small amounts in tobacco smoke. Symptoms of acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of hydrazine may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, and coma in humans. Acute exposure can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system in humans. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals. Effects to the lungs, liver, spleen, and thyroid have been reported in animals chronically (long-term) exposed to hydrazine via inhalation. Increased incidences of lung, nasal cavity, and liver tumors have been observed in rodents exposed to hydrazine. EPA has classified hydrazine as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.
Crumbs! That’s scary!
But wait a minute. The US government's Air Toxics Index notes that:
Accidental discharge into water, air, and soil may occur during storage, handling, transport, and improper waste disposal. However, hydrazine rapidly degrades in the environment and is rarely encountered.
“Rapidly degrades...”? And the World Health Organization says:
Hydrazine is degraded rapidly in the air, through reactions with ozone, hydroxyl radicals, or nitrogen dioxide. In polluted air, the life-time will be approximately 1 hour.
Rapidly degrades? In one hour?
So if the US blows up the satellite as planned at 250 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the resulting vapor is going to be extremely dispersed and ‘rapidly degrades’ anyway. By the time any of it gets down to Earth it won’t be any danger to anyone - except, maybe, a very small beetle, with an asthma complaint and nervous rash.
So why exactly has the Polish defense ministry got together an emergency task force to plan for the end of Poland as we know her on March 16?
And why, for that matter, is the Bush administration ordering shot down the old banger of a satellite in the first place?
The Whitehouse has been ‘shocked’ that many are saying the orbiter is not really any danger to anyone, and that the Pentagon is simply doing what the Chinese did last year when they tested out a missile system especially designed to shoot down spy satellites.
“But it’s a health and safety issue,” the Pentagon bleats, lamely. But few believe them. Few believe anything the Whitehouse says anymore, somewhat wisely.
And the ‘emergency task force’ scrambled together by the Tusk government? Another sign, if we needed it – which we most certainly don’t – that maybe they have too much idle time on their hands.