Conrow: Toxic Shadows

Mahalo to Joan Conrow and Jimmy Trujillo for having me on their KKCR radio program “Out of the Box” to discuss military environmental contamination in Hawai’i.   Joan wrote a post on her blog about the conversation.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Musings: Toxic Shadows

The high-pitched whine of aerials last night and a couple of pre-dawn
firecrackers this morning served as warning of the fireworks free-for-all in
store tonight. Koko isn’t keen on snap, crackle, ka-boom and pop, so we¹ll
dig out of here before things get too wild and she turns into a trembling,
slinking, miserable little pup.

Then come tomorrow, we¹ll see the remains of the frenzy in the red paper,
pieces of wire and other debris littering the roads, yards and beaches,
washing into the ocean, settling on the reef.

It seems that everything connected with the military, even the observance of
our nation¹s independence, has its toxic residue.

Kyle Kajihiro, program director of the American Friends Service Committee
and DMZ Hawaii, and Bob Nichols, a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area,
outlined the extent of the military’s dirty footprint on Hawaii on the
recent KKCR show that Jimmy Trujillo and I hosted.

The U.S. has some 161 military facilities throughout the Hawaiian Islands,
and as Kyle noted, they create “a toxic shadow that affects the surrounding
communities.” Hawaii has 800 to 1,000 military-contaminated sites, many of
them around Pearl Harbor.

While the contaminants at these sites all have environmental and human
health implications – none of them good – what I found especially alarming
was the revelation that the military also has introduced so-called “depleted
uranium,” or DU, to the Islands.

For a more thorough understanding of just what this is all about, check out
Bob’s article on the radioactive uranium that American weapons have
unleashed in Iraq. The piece won a 2005 Project Censored award.

When weapons made with uranium components are shot or exploded, they create
Uranium Oxide Dust (UOD). And as Bob explained on the radio show, the
particles are so tiny, they can penetrate our skin and clothing, even
protective gear that is intended to prevent radiation exposure.

Kyle said that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and
through litigation indicate the military engaged in classified weapons
testing in Hawaii, including the Davy Crockett, one of the smallest nuclear
weapons ever built.

These weapons were possibly used at the Army’s training facilities at Makua
on Oahu, the island of Kahoolawe (which served as a bombing target for some
50 years) and the Big Island’s Pohakuloa, where “DU” has been detected.
Additionally, Kyle said, evidence has come to light that the Army used
weapons with uranium components at Schofield, also on Oahu.

“This goes against what the Army has said for many years,” he said. In other
words, the military has consistently denied using these materials in Hawaii
– until it got busted and the truth was revealed.

But just because the military’s dirty little secret is now public doesn’t
mean that anything has changed. Kyle has attempted to learn more about the
extent of radioactive contamination by filing numerous FOIA requests.
They’ve all been ignored by the military, which is meanwhile seeking permits
to avoid cleaning up its radioactive mess.

And that raises a key question: can microscopic particles that are easily
blown about by the wind ever be cleaned up? And even if they could be, how
much is being re-introduced by the troops and equipment returning from Iraq,
where we know this stuff has been used?

That leads to another question: what is UOD doing to the health of American
troops, the people of Iraq and the citizens and visitors of Hawaii? Bob said
these particles cause cancer wherever they settle in the body, and other
maladies as well.

But the military is using the same strategy of denial it followed when
confronted with veterans sickened by Agent Orange – tested years ago in
Wailua and used extensively in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – and suffering
from Gulf War syndrome.

What¹s more, Kyle said Hawaii’s Congressional delegation has expressed
absolutely no interest in the DU issue, and a bill that would have called
for DU monitoring in areas around military installations died quietly in the
state Legislature.

Meanwhile, even though the military has made numerous messes in Hawaii, most
of which have never been cleaned and likely never will, it is still seeking
to expand its presence in the Islands, especially on Kauai, which I wrote
about for the Honolulu Weekly.

And why? Who is the big enemy we¹re facing? It’s not Russia any more, and
China could bring us to our knees simply by refusing to buy any more of our

Our huge standing military, and the activities it’s carrying out all around
the world, is costing taxpayers a fortune. It¹s also taking a huge toll on
human lives, both our own soldiers, who are killed and maimed in combat and
committing suicide at unprecedented rates, and the civilian populations that
are increasingly being targeted.

So on this, the day set aside to celebrate America’s freedom from the
tyranny of the British colonial power, it seems appropriate to re-examine
the true price we’re paying for having the world’s largest military and
remember the words of John Quincy Adams:

“We are friends of freedom everywhere, defenders only of our own.”
Posted by Joan at 1:02 PM

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