CDC Warns Against Toxic Satellite Fuel


The stated rationale for the U.S. Navy shooting down a failed spy satellite is to protect us earthlings from the half-a-ton of super-toxic hydrazine rocket fuel stored inside the satellite. So perhaps it’s only out of an abundance of caution that the Centers for Disease Control sent out a warning on Wednesday, asking health-care providers to be the alert for hydrazine-related illnesses like nausea, inflammation of the nerves, and coma.

Still, it’s a little disconcerting considering that the missile the Navy will fire at the bus-sized satellite needs to hit its even smaller fuel tank to achieve the goal of eliminating potential human harm, according the Associated Press.

This is what the CDC had to say to health-care providers:

It is possible that the reentry of the satellite could pose a public health threat if pieces of it fall into populated areas. The risk of health effects related to the satellite is considered to be low. However, CDC is encouraging health officials and clinicians to review information about the health effects related to hydrazine to prepare in case their communities are affected by satellite debris.

And what exactly are those effects? The CDC says:

Breathing hydrazine may cause coughing and irritation of the throat and lungs, convulsions, tremors, or seizures. Dermal contact may cause redness, pain, and burns. Eating or drinking small amounts of hydrazine may cause nausea, vomiting, uncontrolled shaking, inflammation of the nerves, drowsiness, or coma.

Another complication is that satellite has no heat-generating propulsion systems on board, making things tougher for the Navy’s heat-seeking missiles, according to the AP. In other words, whoever is firing better be a good shot or else part of this 5,000-pound spacecraft could wind up back on earth.