View DoD Projects to Reduce Safety and Health Impacts of Energetic Materials and Munitions

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December 19, 2016 | Originally published by Date Line: December 19 on

Energetic materials and munitions are used across DoD in mission critical applications such as rockets, missiles, ammunition, and pyrotechnic devices. In these applications, energetic materials and munitions must perform as designed to ensure success in both training and combat operations. There are, however, potential environmental, occupational safety and health risks associated with these materials. Mitigating these risks throughout the life-cycle of these materials is costly and time-consuming.

SERDP and ESTCP are investing in the development and demonstration of alternative materials and synthesis processes to reduce the environmental and occupational safety and health impacts of energetic materials and munitions while maintaining critical performance criteria. Investments are focused on the following areas:


Pyrotechnics are critical components of devices used as decoys, obscurants, combat simulators, and signals. They are required to ignite and burn in a specific manner and produce specific colors and intensities of light or smoke. To fulfill these requirements, pyrotechnic formulations often contain harmful materials such as perchlorate, naphthalene, and hexachloroethane, as well as toxic metals. Projects in this area focus on developing new pyrotechnic formulations that do not contain these and other environmentally harmful materials.

Rocket and Missile Propellants

To maintain the required performance of weapon systems, the propellants currently used in military rockets and missiles require environmentally harmful substances, such as ammonium perchlorate and lead compounds. Projects aim to develop and demonstrate new propellant formulations that do not contain perchlorates, lead compounds, RDX, or other environmentally objectionable materials.  


Explosives are used in munitions as the main charge in warheads and in the fuses, primers, and detonators used to initiate the main charge. The performance of explosive materials is often tied to environmentally objectionable materials such as lead and RDX. In addition, the synthesis processes for explosive compounds such as trinitrotoluene (TNT) and triaminotrinitrobenzene (TATB) generate significant amounts of hazardous waste or require environmentally harmful precursor materials. Projects are focused on developing explosives made with environmentally friendly synthesis processes and materials while not sacrificing performance.

Ammunition and Projectiles

Potential environmental hazards are associated with nearly all the components of a round of ammunition typically used by the military. Primer formulations use harmful lead compounds. Propellants contain nitrocellulose and significant amounts of hazardous waste are generated during their production. Projectiles are made of harmful materials such as lead and depleted uranium. Projects focus on the development and demonstration of alternatives that do not contain harmful materials or generate hazardous waste in production.

Munitions Use and Demilitarization

Munitions generate significant air emissions when they are used or demilitarized. The amounts and composition of these emissions must be determined to enable military installation managers to comply with environmental regulations and obtain permits to continue mission critical activities. Projects aim to quantify the emissions created when munitions are used in normal operation or when they are demilitarized using techniques such as open burning and open detonation.