August 12, 2011
Months after U.S. veterans disclosed that they buried agent orange at Camp Carroll in Korea, more veterans have come forward admitting that they buried agent orange in Okinawa. The Japan Times reports that despite U.S. denials of storing agent orange on Okinawa, a dozen veterans reported disposing of agent orange at nine U.S. military bases in Okinawa:
Red alert: U.S. Marine Scott Parton stands near what he says were barrels of Agent Orange at Camp Schwab in this 1971 photograph. SCOTT PARTON
Agent Orange buried on Okinawa, vet says
Ex-serviceman claims U.S. used, dumped Vietnam War defoliant
By JON MITCHELL
Special to The Japan Times
In the late 1960s, the U.S. military buried dozens of barrels of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange in an area around the town of Chatan on Okinawa Island, an American veteran has told The Japan Times.
The former serviceman’s claim comes only days after Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said that he would ask the U.S. Department of Defense to come clean on its use of the chemical on the island during its 27-year occupation of Okinawa between 1945 and 1972. The U.S. government has repeatedly maintained that it has no records pertaining to the use of Agent Orange in Okinawa.
The veteran’s allegation is likely to cause considerable concern in Okinawa, as Agent Orange contains highly carcinogenic dioxin that can remain in the soil and water for decades. The area where the veteran claims the barrels were buried is near a popular tourist and housing area.
The 61-year-old veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, was stationed between 1968 and 1970 in Okinawa, where he drove a forklift in a U.S. Army supply depot. During that time, he helped load supplies — including Agent Orange — onto trucks for transport to the port of Naha, from where they were shipped to Vietnam.
The veteran said that in 1969, one of the supply ships became stranded on a reef offshore and he had to take part in the subsequent salvage operation.
“They brought in men from all over the island to Naha port. We spent two or three days offloading the boat on the rocks. There were a lot of broken containers full of drums of Agent Orange. The 55-gallon (208-liter) barrels had orange stripes around them. Some of them were split open and we all got poured on,” he said.
Following the removal of the damaged barrels, the veteran claims he then witnessed the army bury them in a large pit. “They dug a long trench. It must have been over 150 feet (46 meters) long. They had pairs of cranes and they lifted up the containers. Then they shook out all of the barrels into the trench. After that, they covered them over with earth.”
Two other former service members interviewed by The Japan Times — soldier Michael Jones and longshoreman James Spencer — backed up the veteran’s claim that Naha’s port was used as a hub to transport thousands of barrels of herbicide. Spencer also said he witnessed the 1969 salvage operation to unload the containers from the listing ship, though he was unable to confirm the contents of the containers.
But the veteran making the allegations said he was sure. “They were Agent Orange. I recognized the smell from when I handled (the barrels) at Machinato (Service Area).”
Since his exposure to the defoliant’s dioxin during the salvage operation, the veteran has suffered serious illnesses, including strokes and chloracne. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) — which handles compensation for ailing service members — pays the former soldier more than $1,000 a month in medical fees related to Agent Orange exposure.
But the VA claims he was exposed to dioxin during the six-month period that he was stationed in Vietnam.
Under the Agent Orange Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1991, all American veterans who spent time in Vietnam are assumed to have come into contact with the defoliant — making them eligible for health benefits and compensation.
But due to the Pentagon’s repeated denials that Agent Orange was ever stored in Okinawa, it does not pay these benefits to U.S. veterans who claim dioxin-exposure on the island.
The veteran said he is aware of the risk of discussing the issue — especially given the sensitivity of current Japan-U.S. relations over Okinawa, where negotiations are currently under way to realign U.S. forces stationed there. “I worry if I go public with my name on this, they’ll take away my benefits,” he said.
In 2002, the prefectural government uncovered a large number of unidentified barrels in the Chatan area near the location where the veteran claims he witnessed the trench being dug. According to a source close to the Chatan municipal office, after the barrels were uncovered, they were quickly seized by the Naha-based Okinawa Defense Bureau, which is under what is now the Defense Ministry.
“I asked the Chatan town base affairs division if they had a report from the defense bureau. They said no. The town still does not know what the substance was, how the barrels were treated or if the bureau conducted an analysis of the substance,” the source said.
Over the past six months, The Japan Times has gathered firsthand testimony from a dozen U.S. veterans who claim to have stored, sprayed and transported Agent Orange on nine U.S. military installations on Okinawa — including the Kadena air base and Futenma air station — between the mid-1960s and 1975.
Among those who have come forward are Joe Sipala, a 61-year-old former U.S. Air Force mechanic, who says he sprayed the defoliant regularly to kill weeds around the perimeter of the Awase Transmitter Site, and Scott Parton, a marine at Camp Schwab who alleges that he saw dozens of barrels of Agent Orange on the base in 1971. Both men’s allegations are supported by photographs of barrels of the defoliant on Okinawa. They are currently suffering serious illnesses — including type-2 diabetes and prostate disorders — related to their contact with the defoliant, and Sipala’s children show signs of deformities consistent with exposure to dioxin. However, the VA is continuing to reject the men’s claims due to the Department of Defense’s denials that the defoliant was ever present on Okinawa.
The accounts of these 12 veterans suggest the wide-scale use of Agent Orange on the island during the Vietnam War. They say the defoliant was used and stored in massive quantities from the northern Yambaru district to Naha port in the south. The defoliant’s carcinogenic properties were not fully revealed until the mid-1980s.
Okinawans expressed concern over the issue. A retired teacher whose school was located near one of the nine bases where Agent Orange had been sprayed recently explained how several of her students had died of leukemia — one of the diseases listed by the U.S. government as caused by exposure to dioxin.
Yoshitami Oshiro, a member of the Nago Municipal Assembly, called for an investigation into the claims of Parton, the former marine, that he had seen large numbers of barrels at Camp Schwab — which is in Nago.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has been accused of disposing toxic waste this way.
In 2005, Fort Mainwright, Alaska, made headlines after construction workers discovered tons of PCB-contaminated earth beneath a planned housing unit. In May, three U.S. veterans claimed they helped bury barrels of Agent Orange on Camp Carroll in South Korea in 1978. The Pentagon is currently investigating this assertion.
Kaori Sunagawa, an expert in environmental law at Okinawa International University, expressed her concern about possible contamination by Agent Orange.
“Okinawan people need to know the truth about this issue. The government has to conduct research to see if the contamination has spread. We need to know if there is still a risk to human health and the environment,” she said.
July 7, 2011
In May, three former U.S. soldiers admitted to dumping hundreds of barrels of chemical substances, including Agent Orange, at Camp Carroll in South Korea in 1978. This explosive news was a harsh reminder to South Koreans of the high costs and lethal trail left behind by the ongoing U.S. military presence.
“We basically buried our garbage in their backyards,” U.S. veteran Steve House told a local news station in Phoenix, Arizona. A heavy equipment operator in the Army, House said he was ordered to dig a ditch the length of a city block to bury 55-gallon drums marked with bright yellow and orange labels: “Province of Vietnam, Compound Orange.” House said that the military buried 250 drums of defoliants stored on the base, which served then as the U.S. Army Material Support Center in Korea. Later they buried chemicals transported from other places on as many as 20 occasions, totaling up to 600 barrels.
“This stuff was just seeping through the barrels,” said Robert Travis, another veteran now living in West Virginia. “There was a smell, I couldn’t describe it, just sickly sweet.” Immediately after wheeling the barrels from a warehouse at Camp Carroll, Travis developed a severe rash; other health problems emerged later. He said there were “approximately 250 drums, all OD (olive drab) green… with a stripe around the barrel dated 1967 for the Republic of Vietnam.”
A third soldier, Richard Cramer of Illinois, said that his feet went numb as he buried barrels of Agent Orange at Camp Carroll. He spent two months in a military hospital and now has swollen ankles and toes, chronic arthritis, eye infections, and impaired hearing. “If we prove what they did was wrong,’ says Cramer, “they should ‘fess up and clean it up and take care of the people involved.”
The three veterans are now seriously ill. Steve House suffers from diabetes and neuropathy, two out of 15 diseases officially linked to Agent Orange. “This is a burden I’ve carried around for 35 years,” House, aged 54, told Associated Press reporters. “I just recently found out that I have to have some major surgery… If I’m going to check out, I want to do it with a clean slate.”
March 2, 2011
Two articles in Environmental Health News review technical reports on new discoveries about the effects of depleted uranium on the body. In “Uranium travels nerves from nose to brain”, the author writes:
Nerves can act as a unique conduit, carrying inhaled uranium from the nose directly to the brain, finds a study with rats. Once in the brain, the uranium may affect task and decision-related types of thinking.
This study provides yet another example of how some substances can use the olfactory system – bypassing the brain’s protective blood barrier – to go directly to the brain. Titanium nanoparticles and the metals manganese, nickel, and thallium have been shown to reach the brain using the same route.
In another article, “Depleted and enriched uranium affect DNA in different ways,” the author writes:
Meticulous research identifies for the first time how two main types of uranium – enriched and depleted – damage a cell’s DNA by different methods. The manner – either by radiation or by its chemical properties as a metal – depends upon whether the uranium is processed or depleted.
This study shows that both types of uranium may carry a health risk because they both affect DNA in ways that can lead to cancer.
Why does it matter? Regulatory agencies determine safe uranium exposure based on the metal’s radioactive effects. Currently, safe exposure levels for workers and military personnel are based on enriched uranium – which is the more radioactive form and is considered to have a higher cancer risk than depleted uranium. Uranium exposure has been shown to affect bone, kidney, liver, brain, lung, intestine and the reproductive system.
Yet, many people are exposed at work or through military activities to the less radioactive, depleted form. They may not be adequately protected based on current methods that evaluate uranium’s health risks.
The study found that depleted uranium could cause genetic damage by its toxicity rather than its radiological effect:
However, the depleted uranium had a different type of effect. It altered the number of chromosomes in the cell. These effects are due to improper migration of chromosomes when cells divide. This type of damage – called aneugenic damage – was not related to the amount of radiation the cells received and was likely caused by the metal properties of uranium.
The methods used in this study clearly provide a new way to assess the different types of genetic harm caused by uranium. The findings will help ferret out whether the genetic damage caused by the depleted uranium also carries a high risk of causing cancer, which is something those who work with or are around the metal want to know. Further study is warranted to truly assess human health risks.
December 19, 2010
ATSDR Late with Vieques Report
Concern within the scientific Community
by José A. Delgado firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – The confidentiality with which the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has handled the report that would officially discard conclusions made a decade ago that minimized health damages caused by military maneuvers on Vieques provokes concern within the
“They were supposed to act with diligence, speed and transparency, but we’ve seen none of these things”, said biologist, Arturo Massol, professor at the University of Puerto Rico/Mayaguez and one of the scientists who participated in a forum in November of 2009 in Atlanta, in which the head of
ATSDR made initial commitment to discard conclusions based upon previous studies.
After a preliminary declaration in November, 2009, to announce the agency’s decision to discard previous conclusions that rejected a causal relationship between Navy actions and negative effects in health of Viequenses, the next step was to put out the draft report last May.
The plan was to submit the report to public comment in May, 2010 for later review by the Federal Health Department. Then, public hearings were to take place in Vieques during the summer.
More than six months have passed and the report has circulated only amongst a small group, without any public discussion.
“They didn’t fulfill their promises”, recognized Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, who asked ATSDR interim director, Henry Falk, for a second meeting to clear up the situation.
Falk asked for time to prepare the meeting, according to Pierluisi.
Massol sustained that he knows at least one UPR/Mayaguez professor invited to comment on the draft report. “ They’ve circulated a document but have not discussed it with the participants in the November, 2009 Atlanda forum”, Massol added.
In conversation last week, Pierluisi suggested he had a copy of the report, but if this is true, he has also kept it confidential.
It also said it would recommend ‘biological monitoring’ on Vieques and a collaborative agreement with the PR Health Department to carry out an exhaustive health study on the island municipality.
It is rumored that new ATSDR recommendations might be included in the report by the White House Inter Agency Group on Puerto Rico that should come out this month. “I don’t know that’s the plan, but Vieques will be part of the White House report”, Pierluisi indicated
In November, 2009, after Puerto Rican scientists like Massol, Carmen Ortiz Roque and Carmen Colón de Jorge confronted ATSDR researches with their own studies, the federal agency announced it was discarding ‘some’ of the conclusions about contamination on Vieques.
It is also feared that the Federal Government looks to soften ATSDR policy change, since a law suit continues involving 7000 Viequenses related to adverse health effects from military exercises on Vieques.
Last week the Viequenses, through their lawyer, John Arthur Eaves, Jr., appealed the decision by San Juan federal judge, Daniel Dominguez, who dismissed Viequenses claims that the federal government make reparations for health damages.
In the past, Pierluisi has stated that “logic and common sense tells me that high levels of cancer and other chronic illnesses (on Vieques) must be related to the military practices”.
December 12, 2010
A new study shows newborns in perchlorate contaminated areas have a 50% chance of having impaired thyroid function. Perchlorate is an oxidizer used in rocket propellant that attacks the thyroid. It has been detected in groundwater in Nohili, Kaua’i near the caves where munitions are stored. I think it was also detected in Schofield (Lihu’e). The levels detected in Hawai’i were below the federal limit (around 25 parts per billion) but above the California limit (5 ppb). Needless to say, when asked about conducting further investigations and cleaning up the contamination, the military dismissed the perchlorate contamination as insignificant. The Department of Defense has fought efforts to set tougher standards for perchlorate. Here’s an excerpt from a Press Enterprise article on the California infant health study:
A new analysis by state scientists found that low levels of a rocket fuel chemical common in Inland drinking water supplies appear to be more harmful to newborn babies than previously believed, prompting calls for a tougher limit for tap water.
Scientists with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment examined records of blood samples drawn from the heels of 497,458 newborns in 1998 as part of a California disease-screening program.
The researchers found that the babies born in areas where tap water was contaminated with perchlorate — including babies in Riverside and San Bernardino — had a 50 percent chance of having a poorly performing thyroid gland, said Dr. Craig Steinmaus, lead author of the study published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
October 25, 2010
2. US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet
Sara Flounders, “Add Climate Havoc to War Crimes: Pentagon’s Role in Global Catastrophe,” International Action Center, December 18, 2009, http://www.iacenter.org/o/world/climatesummit_pentagon121809.
Mickey Z., “Can You Identify the Worst Polluter on the Planet? Here’s a Hint: Shock and Awe,” Planet Green, August 10, 2009, http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tech-transport/identify-worst-polluter-planet.html.
Julian Aguon, “Guam Residents Organize Against US Plans for $15B Military Buildup on Pacific Island,” Democracy Now!, October 9, 2009, http://www.democracynow.org/ 2009/10/9/guam_residents_organize_against_us_plans.
Ian Macleod, “U.S. Plots Arctic Push,” Ottawa Citizen, November 28, 2009, http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/navy+plots+Arctic+push/2278324/story.html.
Nick Turse, “Vietnam Still in Shambles after American War,” In These Times, May 2009, http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4363/casualties_continue_in_vietnam.
Jalal Ghazi, “Cancer—The Deadly Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq,” New America Media, January 6, 2010, http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article _id=80e260b3839daf2084fdeb0965ad31ab.
Dimitrina Semova, Joan Pedro, and Luis Luján (Complutense University of Madrid)
Ashley Jackson-Lesti, Ryan Stevens, Chris Marten, and Kristy Nelson (Sonoma State University)
Christopher Lue (Indian River State College)
Cassie Barthel (St. Cloud State University)
Ana I. Segovia (Complutense University of Madrid)
Julie Flohr and Mryna Goodman (Sonoma State University)
Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)
Julie Andrzejewski (St. Cloud State University)
The US military is responsible for the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet, yet this information and accompanying documentation goes almost entirely unreported. In spite of the evidence, the environmental impact of the US military goes largely unaddressed by environmental organizations and was not the focus of any discussions or proposed restrictions at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil.
The extensive global operations of the US military (wars, interventions, and secret operations on over one thousand bases around the world and six thousand facilities in the United States) are not counted against US greenhouse gas limits. Sara Flounders writes, “By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.”
While official accounts put US military usage at 320,000 barrels of oil a day, that does not include fuel consumed by contractors, in leased or private facilities, or in the production of weapons. The US military is a major contributor of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that most scientists believe is to blame for climate change. Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, reports, “The Iraq war was responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) from March 2003 through December 2007. . . . That war emits more than 60 percent that of all countries. . . . This information is not readily available . . . because military emissions abroad are exempt from national reporting requirements under US law and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”
According to Barry Sanders, author of The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism, “the greatest single assault on the environment, on all of us around the globe, comes from one agency . . . the Armed Forces of the United States.”
Throughout the long history of military preparations, actions, and wars, the US military has not been held responsible for the effects of its activities upon environments, peoples, or animals. During the Kyoto Accords negotiations in December 1997, the US demanded as a provision of signing that any and all of its military operations worldwide, including operations in participation with the UN and NATO, be exempted from measurement or reductions. After attaining this concession, the Bush administration then refused to sign the accords and the US Congress passed an explicit provision guaranteeing the US military exemption from any energy reduction or measurement.
Environmental journalist Johanna Peace reports that military activities will continue to be exempt based on an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that calls for other federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Peace states, “The military accounts for a full 80 percent of the federal government’s energy demand.”
As it stands, the Department of Defense is the largest polluter in the world, producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined. Depleted uranium, petroleum, oil, pesticides, defoliant agents such as Agent Orange, and lead, along with vast amounts of radiation from weaponry produced, tested, and used, are just some of the pollutants with which the US military is contaminating the environment. Flounders identifies key examples:
Depleted uranium: Tens of thousands of pounds of microparticles of radioactive and highly toxic waste contaminate the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Balkans.
US-made land mines and cluster bombs spread over wide areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East continue to spread death and destruction even after wars have ceased.
Thirty-five years after the Vietnam War, dioxin contamination is three hundred to four hundred times higher than “safe” levels, resulting in severe birth defects and cancers into the third generation of those affected.
US military policies and wars in Iraq have created severe desertification of 90 percent of the land, changing Iraq from a food exporter into a country that imports 80 percent of its food.
In the US, military bases top the Superfund list of the most polluted places, as perchlorate and trichloroethylene seep into the drinking water, aquifers, and soil.
Nuclear weapons testing in the American Southwest and the South Pacific Islands has contaminated millions of acres of land and water with radiation, while uranium tailings defile Navajo reservations.
Rusting barrels of chemicals and solvents and millions of rounds of ammunition are criminally abandoned by the Pentagon in bases around the world.
The United States is planning an enormous $15 billion military buildup on the Pacific island of Guam. The project would turn the thirty-mile-long island into a major hub for US military operations in the Pacific. It has been described as the largest military buildup in recent history and could bring as many as fifty thousand people to the tiny island. Chamoru civil rights attorney Julian Aguon warns that this military operation will bring irreversible social and environmental consequences to Guam. As an unincorporated territory, or colony, and of the US, the people of Guam have no right to self-determination, and no governmental means to oppose an unpopular and destructive occupation.
Between 1946 and 1958, the US dropped more than sixty nuclear weapons on the people of the Marshall Islands. The Chamoru people of Guam, being so close and downwind, still experience an alarmingly high rate of related cancer.
On Capitol Hill, the conversation has been restricted to whether the jobs expected from the military construction should go to mainland Americans, foreign workers, or Guam residents. But we rarely hear the voices and concerns of the indigenous people of Guam, who constitute over a third of the island’s population.
Meanwhile, as if the US military has not contaminated enough of the world already, a new five-year strategic plan by the US Navy outlines the militarization of the Arctic to defend national security, potential undersea riches, and other maritime interests, anticipating the frozen Arctic Ocean to be open waters by the year 2030. This plan strategizes expanding fleet operations, resource development, research, and tourism, and could possibly reshape global transportation.
While the plan discusses “strong partnerships” with other nations (Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Russia have also made substantial investments in Arctic-capable military armaments), it is quite evident that the US is serious about increasing its military presence and naval combat capabilities. The US, in addition to planned naval rearmament, is stationing thirty-six F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets, which is 20 percent of the F-22 fleet, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Some of the action items in the US Navy Arctic Roadmap document include:
Assessing current and required capability to execute undersea warfare, expeditionary warfare, strike warfare, strategic sealift, and regional security cooperation.
Assessing current and predicted threats in order to determine the most dangerous and most likely threats in the Arctic region in 2010, 2015, and 2025.
Focusing on threats to US national security, although threats to maritime safety and security may also be considered.
Behind the public façade of international Arctic cooperation, Rob Heubert, associate director at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, points out, “If you read the document carefully you’ll see a dual language, one where they’re saying, ‘We’ve got to start working together’ . . . and [then] they start saying, ‘We have to get new instrumentation for our combat officers.’ . . . They’re clearly understanding that the future is not nearly as nice as what all the public policy statements say.”
Beyond the concerns about human conflicts in the Arctic, the consequences of militarization on the Arctic environment are not even being considered. Given the record of environmental devastation that the US military has wrought, such a silence is unacceptable.
Update by Mickey Z.
As I sit here, typing this “update,” the predator drones are still flying over Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, the oil is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and 53.3 percent of our tax money is still being funneled to the US military. Simply put, hope and change feels no different from shock and awe . . . but the mainstream media continues to propagate the two-party lie.
Linking the antiwar and environmental movements is a much-needed step. As Cindy Sheehan recently told me, “I think one of the best things that we can do is look into economic conversion of the defense industry into green industries, working on sustainable and renewable forms of energy, and/or connect[ing] with indigenous people who are trying to reclaim their lands from the pollution of the military industrial complex. The best thing to do would be to start on a very local level to reclaim a planet healthy for life.”
It comes down to recognizing the connections, recognizing how we are manipulated into supporting wars and how those wars are killing our ecosystem. We must also recognize our connection to the natural world. For if we were to view all living things, including ourselves, as part of one collective soul, how could we not defend that collective soul by any means necessary?
We are on the brink of economic, social, and environmental collapse. In other words, this is the best time ever to be an activist.
Update by Julian Aguon
In 2010, the people of Guam are bracing themselves for a cataclysmic round of militarization with virtually no parallel in recent history. Set to formally begin this year, the military buildup comes on the heels of a decision by the United States to aggrandize its military posture in the Asia-Pacific region. At the center of the US military realignment schema is the hotly contested agreement between the United States and Japan to relocate thousands of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. This portentous development, which is linked to the United States’ perception of China as a security threat, bodes great harm to the people and environment of Guam yet remains virtually unknown to Americans and the rest of the international community.
What is happening in Guam is inherently interesting because while America trots its soldiers and its citizenry off to war to the tune of “spreading democracy” in its own proverbial backyard, an entire civilization of so-called “Americans” watch with bated breath as people thousands of miles away—people we cannot vote for—make decisions for us at ethnocidal costs. Although this military buildup marks the most volatile demographic change in recent Guam history, the people of Guam have never had an opportunity to meaningfully participate in any discussion about the buildup. To date, the scant coverage of the military buildup has centered almost exclusively around the United States and Japan. In fact, the story entitled “Guam Residents Organize Against US Plans for $15B Military Buildup on Pacific Island” on Democracy Now! was the first bona fide US media coverage of the military buildup since 2005 to consider, let alone privilege, the people’s opposition.
The heart of this story is not so much in the finer details of the military buildup as it is in the larger political context of real-life twenty-first-century colonialism. Under US domestic law, Guam is an unincorporated territory. What this means is that Guam is a territory that belongs to the United States but is not a part of it. As an unincorporated territory, the US Constitution does not necessarily or automatically apply in Guam. Instead, the US Congress has broad powers over the unincorporated territories, including the power to choose what portions of the Constitution apply to them. In reality, Guam remains under the purview of the Office of Insular Affairs in the US Department of the Interior.
Under international law, Guam is a non-self-governing territory, or UN-recognized colony whose people have yet to exercise the fundamental right to self-determination. Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, which addresses the rights of peoples in non-self-governing territories, commands states administering them to “recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants are paramount.” These “administering powers” accept as a “sacred trust” the obligation to develop self-government in the territories, taking due account of the political aspirations of the people. As a matter of international treaty and customary law, the colonized people of Guam have a right to self-determination under international law that the United States, at least in theory, recognizes.
The military buildup, however, reveals the United States’ failure to fulfill its international legal mandate. This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that this very year, 2010, marks the formal conclusion of not one but two UN-designated international decades for the eradication of colonialism. In 1990, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1990–2000 as the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. To this end, the General Assembly adopted a detailed plan of action to expedite the unqualified end of all forms of colonialism. In 2001, citing a wholesale lack of progress during the first decade, the General Assembly proclaimed a second one to effect the same goal. The second decade has come and all but gone with only Timor-Leste, or East Timor, managing to attain independence from Indonesia in 2002.
In November 2009—one month after “Guam Residents Organize Against US Plans for $15B Military Buildup on Pacific Island” aired—the US Department of Defense released an unprecedented 11,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), detailing for the first time the true enormity of the contemplated militarization of Guam. At its peak, the military buildup will bring more than 80,000 new residents to Guam, which includes more than 8,600 US Marines and their 9,000 dependents; 7,000 so-called transient US Navy personnel; 600 to 1,000 US Army personnel; and 20,000 foreign workers on military construction contracts. This “human tsunami,” as it is being called, represents a roughly 47 percent increase in Guam’s total population in a four-to-six-year window. Today, the total population of Guam is roughly 178,000 people, the indigenous Chamoru people making up only 37 percent of that number. We are looking at a volatile and virtually overnight demographic change in the makeup of the island that even the US military admits will result in the political dispossession of the Chamoru people. To put the pace of this ethnocide in context, just prior to World War II, Chamorus comprised more than 90 percent of Guam’s population.
At the center of the buildup are three major proposed actions: 1) the construction of permanent facilities and infrastructure to support the full spectrum of warfare training for the thousands of relocated Marines; 2) the construction of a new deep-draft wharf in the island’s only harbor to provide for the passage of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers; and 3) the construction of an Army Missile Defense Task Force modeled on the Marshall Islands–based Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, for the practice of intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In terms of adverse impact, these developments will mean, among other things, the clearing of whole limestone forests and the desecration of burial sites some 3,500 years old; the restricting of access to areas rich in plants necessary for indigenous medicinal practice; the denying of access to places of worship and traditional fishing grounds; the destroying of seventy acres of thriving coral reef, which currently serve as critical habitat for several endangered species; and the over-tapping of Guam’s water system to include the drilling of twenty-two additional wells. In addition, the likelihood of military-related accidents will greatly increase. Seven crashes occurred during military training from August 2007 to July 2008, the most recent of which involved a crash of a B-52 bomber that killed the entire crew. The increased presence of US military forces in Guam also increases the island’s visibility as a target for enemies of the United States.
Finally, an issue that has sparked some of the sharpest debate in Guam has been the Department of Defense’s announcement that it will, if needed, forcibly condemn an additional 2,200 acres of land in Guam to support the construction of new military facilities. This potential new land grab has been met with mounting protest by island residents, mainly due to the fact that the US military already owns close to one-third of the small island, the majority of which was illegally taken after World War II.
In February 2010, upon review of the DEIS, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rated it “insufficient” and “environmentally unsatisfactory,” giving it the lowest possible rating for a DEIS. Among other things, the EPA’s findings suggest that Guam’s water infrastructure cannot handle the population boom and that the island’s fresh water resources will be at high risk for contamination. The EPA predicts that without infrastructural upgrades to the water system, the population outside the bases will experience a 13.1 million gallons of water shortage per day in 2014. The agency stated that the Pentagon’s massive buildup plans for Guam “should not proceed as proposed.” The people of Guam were given a mere ninety days to read through the voluminous 11,000-page document and make comments about its contents. The ninety-day comment period ended on February 17, 2010. The final EIS is scheduled for release in August 2010, with the record of decision to follow immediately thereafter.
The response to this story from the mainstream US media has been deafening silence. Since the military buildup was first announced in 2005, it was more than three years before any US media outlet picked up on the story. In fact, the October 2009 Democracy Now! interview was the first substantive national news coverage of the military buildup.
For more information on the military buildup:
We Are Guahan, http://www.weareguahan.com
Draft Environmental Impact Study Guam & Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Military Relocation, www.guambuildupeis.us
Center for Biological Diversity Response to DEIS, www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/
EPA Response to Guam DEIS, www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=68298
For more information on Guam’s movement to resist militarization and
The Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice: Lisa Linda Natividad, email@example.com; Hope Cristobal, firstname.lastname@example.org; Julian Aguon, email@example.com; Michael Lujan Bevacqua, firstname.lastname@example.org; Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, email@example.com
We Are Guahan—We Are Guahan Public Forum: www.weareguahan.com
Famoksaiyan: Martha Duenas, firstname.lastname@example.org; famoksaiyanwc.wordpress.com
1 Response for “2. US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet”
In 2007 at a climate change DPI and NGO meeting at the UN, the Peace Caucus and the Anti-Militarism Caucus prepared a Declaration, The Elephant in the Room; MiIitarism. We attempted to present the Declaration to the plenary but we were prevented from doing so. One of the issues we raised was the fact that the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has refused to calculate the impact of militarism on greenhouse gas emissions. We also called for the disbanding of NATO and the reallocation of the global military budget. Also for COP15, in Copenhagen, I co-authored a a statement which included a number of references to Militarism and at COP 15 I raised these issues at Press Conferences.
May 17, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 17, 2010
CONTACT: Aaron Keyak
office: (202) 225-5061
cell: (202) 905-6361
Rothman: The People of Vieques, Puerto Rico Deserve Justice from the U.S. Government
Hackensack, NJ – Today, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ), a member of the Science and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, will be joined by Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus, and other members of the caucus at a press conference in Hackensack, NJ to fight for justice for the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Vieques is a small island off the South East coast of Puerto Rico that was used as a bombing range by the U.S. Navy from World War II until 2003. The munitions used in and around Vieques contained toxins that have affected the health of the residents. A year ago Congressman Rothman successfully pressured the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to re-examine the agency’s inadequate health assessments for the inhabitants of the island of Vieques, because there are still issues that need to be addressed.
“The injustice toward the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico must end. Vieques is a small island off the south east coast of Puerto Rico that was used as a bombing range by the U.S. Navy from World War II until 2003. The munitions used in and around Vieques contained toxins that have affected the health of the residents. Yet in 2003, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a report that said that the levels posed no health risk. The conclusions in this report strain credibility, are inconsistent,and demand a thorough reexamination,” said Congressman Rothman.
What: Press conference on the inadequate health assessment report by ATSDR and the high rates of disease among the people of Vieques
When: Today, May 17, 2010 at 9:30 am
Where: Plaza outside of Congressman Rothman’s Hackensack, NJ office
25 Main Street
Who: Congressman Steve Rothman, Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano.
Contact: Aaron Keyak at email@example.com or (202) 905-6361
A full statement from Congressman Rothman:
The injustice toward the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico must end. Vieques is a small island off the south east coast of Puerto Rico that was used as a bombing range by the U.S. Navy from World War II until 2003. The munitions used in and around Vieques contained toxins that have affected the health of the residents. Yet in 2003, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a report that said that the levels posed no health risk. The conclusions in this report strain credibility, are inconsistent, and demand a thorough reexamination.
The people of Vieques deserve answers for the undisputed high rates of disease that they have encountered over the years. Residents of Vieques have a 25% higher infant mortality rate, 30% higher rate of cancer, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than those on the main island of Puerto Rico.
I have brought this issue to the attention of the highest levels of our government and all of the appropriate federal agencies. ATSDR was finally convinced to re-open this case and made this known in response to my demands during a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee, of which I am a member, on March 12, 2009. They have now begun an independent reexamination of their 2003 conclusions and have stated that they will issue their initial findings by the end of the summer or early fall 2010.
In addition, I have been assured that this issue will be included in the White House Task Force’s examinations and recommendations to President Barack Obama regarding Puerto Rico. I look forward to reading a new and improved report from ATSDR that will finally reveal the truth and open the door for justice to be realized by the people of Vieques. Finally, I intend to question ATSDR’s Director Henry Falk later this week when he appears before our House Science and Technology Committee.
We must bring the issues surrounding the health of Vieques to light. I am confident we will finally be able to bring justice to Vieques. The time for the U.S. government to right this wrong is long overdue.
Congressman Steve Rothman (NJ-9)
2303 Rayburn HOB
May 4, 2010
The Poisoning of Puerto Rico
The U.S. Navy left Vieques, but for many, the cancer remains.
By Jacob Wheeler May 3, 2010
Vieques, puerto rico — on March 31, retired Sgt. Hermogenes Marrero was told during a visit to the Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient clinic in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, that he didn’t have cancer — or at least, his official VA computer file no longer showed any record of cancer.
But Marrero was not relieved. He had been diagnosed twice before with colon cancer and suffers today from a dozen other illnesses, including Lou Gehrig’s disease, failing vision, a lung condition that keeps him on oxygen around the clock, not to mention tumors throughout his body. The terminally ill and wheelchair-bound, 57-year-old veteran immediately suspected that the U.S. government had manipulated his medical record.
Marrero is the star witness in a lawsuit filed in 2007 against the U.S. government by Mississippi attorney John Arthur Eaves on behalf of more than 7,000 residents of the picturesque, yet heavily polluted, Puerto Rican island of Vieques. From 1941 until 2003 the U.S. Navy operated a base here, conducting bombing runs and testing chemical weapons for use in foreign wars, from Vietnam to Yugoslavia to Iraq.
The three-quarters of Vieques’ population listed as plaintiffs in the suit blame the billions of tons of bombs dropped by the Navy on Vieques’ eastern half, and the toxic chemicals released into the water, air and soil during that period, for their physical and psychological illnesses. Viequenses today suffer 30-percent higher cancer rates than other Puerto Ricans, 381-percent higher rates of hypertension, 95-percent higher rates of cirrhosis of the liver and 41-percent higher rates of diabetes. Twenty-five percent more children die during infancy in Vieques than in the rest of Puerto Rico.
Early in World War II, when fortunes looked grim for the Allies, the U.S. Navy occupied three-quarters of Vieques, which sits eight miles from the Puerto Rican mainland, moved one-third of its population to the nearby Virgin Islands, and planned to relocate the entire British fleet there in the event of a German invasion of England. Instead, Vieques became the U.S. testing ground for nearly every weapon used during the Cold War.
Though Marrero spent only 18 months on Vieques during his tour in the early 1970s, the Special Forces Marine suffers today from many of the same medical conditions as the local population. The Puerto Rican native, raised in Queens, N.Y., arrived on the island in 1970 with the task of guarding the vast array of chemical weapons the Navy stored and tested there. Marrero was exposed to toxics, including napalm and Agent Orange — which at the time he thought was weed killer. He developed massive headaches, bled from his nose, and suffered nausea and severe cramps. “I witnessed some of the most awesome weapons used for mass destruction in the world,” Marrero says. “I didn’t know how dangerous those chemicals were, because it was on a need-to-know basis.
Today Marrero waits in the city of Mayaguez in western Puerto Rico for his chance to testify in court against the U.S. military for poisoning the people of Vieques and U.S. soldiers based there.
“These are American citizens, yet we violated their human rights,” says the humbled former Marine. “This would never have been allowed to happen in Washington or Seattle or Baltimore.”
The king can do no wrong
Before John Arthur Eaves’ lawsuit can be heard, however, it must first be approved by the First Circuit Court in Boston after the suit was rejected on April 13 by federal judge Daniel R. Dominguez, who sits on the U.S. District Court in San Juan. Eaves will officially appeal the case to the First Circuit Court early this summer. But the U.S. Navy has invoked sovereign immunity, a strategy that comes from the monarchic period when kings were immune from being sued. Unless a federal judge in Boston rejects sovereign immunity, no scientific evidence will ever reach the courtroom.
“The U.S. government wants the case to be dismissed — the ‘king can do no wrong’,’ ” says Eaves. “We claim their actions should not be protected under sovereign immunity, because when the government steps outside its discretion, its actions are no longer protected. We know that in at least one year the Navy violated the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA] standards 102 times.”
Washington rejects allegations that the Navy’s activities on Vieques poisoned residents — even though the government has admitted the presence of napalm, agent orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium on the former bombing range. In February 2005, the EPA identified Vieques as a Superfund site, which placed the cleanup of hazardous sites in federal hands.
In its defense, the U.S. government cites a controversial 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). But Arturo Massol, a biologist at the University of Puerto Rico who has studied toxic contamination on Vieques, calls the ATSDR study unscientific, if not outright criminal.
“A battalion of researchers came here and used poorly designed scientific experiments to conduct a political assessment that intentionally covered up reality,” Massol says. “The Navy is gone, but these agencies should be charged as accessories to murder because preventative policies could have been established after 2003.”
The bombing range on eastern Vieques was indisputably subjected to more than 60 years of non-indigenous chemicals, Massol says. There are no other sources of industrial pollution on the island. Those toxic metals accumulated in the biomass of plants and were eaten by grazing cows and fish. Once pollution reached the vegetation and the base of the food chain, it was transferred into humans. Massol and other independent scientists found that Vieques animals had 50 times more lead and 10 times more cadmium than animals on mainland Puerto Rico.
Under President Barack Obama, however, the U.S. government has shown signs of changing its tune. A U.S. congressional investigation last May into Hurricane Katrina trailers contaminated with formaldehyde accused the ATSDR of colluding with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to “deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns.” When the Vieques case resurfaced, a team of ATSDR scientists began re-examining environmental health data on the island.
On Feb. 12, 2008, during his heated primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, then Sen. Obama wrote a letter to Puerto Rican Governor Acevedo Vila, stating that, were he to be elected president, “My Administration will actively work with the Department of Defense as well to achieve an environmentally acceptable clean-up … We will closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques.” Yet today, the Obama White House remains silent on the issue.
Living in the line of fire
Nanette Rosa, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, remembers what daily life was like in the Vieques village of Esperanza when the Navy airplanes took off from the island’s west coast and flew overhead to drop bombs in the east.
“When the wind came from the east, it brought smoke and piles of dust from where they were bombing,” Rosa says. “From January until June, they’d bomb every day, from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. It felt like you were living in the middle of a war.”
Her neighbors in Esperanza developed breathing problems and skin rashes. Then in 1993, Nanette traveled to the port town of Fajardo to have her fourth child, Coral. The girl weighed only four pounds and doctors diagnosed her with “blue baby syndrome” (a result of high nitrate contamination in the groundwater, which decreased her oxygen-carrying capacity). Doctors in San Juan performed a colostomy on Coral, and when she was six-months-old, they found eight tumors in her intestines and stomach. The day before Coral’s first birthday, Nanette was told to celebrate because this would be the baby’s last.
Instead, in January 1995, Nanette sold her new house for a $600 plane ticket and flew to Brooklyn to seek help. Doctors at Kings County Hospital removed half of Coral’s intestines and stomach, which saved her life. Broke and without financial support, Nanette spent three months sleeping on a bench in the hospital.
Miraculously, Coral is alive today and about to turn 17. Her cancer is in remission, but doctors recently found three lumps in one of her breasts. Coral’s younger sister Ainnanenuchka, 14, has been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma (cancer in her blood and bones), and part of her leg was removed and implanted in her chin.
“I’m 100 percent confident that the lawsuit will succeed, because the Lord told me so,” says Nanette, now 38 and a Pentecostal optimist. “I read in the Bible that every damage caused to the Earth has to be repaid.”
And if the lawsuit doesn’t succeed?
“I leave it in God’s hands. If I have to go to jail, it’s worth it to save my daughters’ lives.”
[Note: The lawsuit was recently dismissed, with prejudice, by Judge Daniel Dominguez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, who sided with the U.S Justice Department in its contention that the case should not be seen on its merits because of "sovereign immunity".]
Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at In These Times.
April 27, 2010
The American Military is Creating an Environmental Disaster in Afghanistan
By Matthew Nasuti
Global Research, April 27, 2010
Kabul Press – 2010-04-25
The American military presence in Afghanistan consists of fleets of aircraft, helicopters, armored vehicles, weapons, equipment, troops and facilities. Since 2001, they have generated millions of kilograms of hazardous, toxic and radioactive wastes. The Kabul Press asks the simple question:
“What have the Americans done with all that waste?”
The answer is chilling in that virtually all of it appears to have been buried, burned or secretly disposed of into the air, soil, groundwater and surface waters of Afghanistan. While the Americans may begin to withdraw next year, the toxic chemicals they leave behind will continue to pollute for centuries. Any abandoned radioactive waste may stain the Afghan countryside for thousands of years. Afghanistan has been described in the past as the graveyard of foreign armies. Today, Afghanistan has a different title:
“Afghanistan is the toxic dumping ground for foreign armies.”
The (U.S.) Air Force Times ran an editorial on March 1, 2010, that read: “Stamp Out Burn Pits” We reprint here the first half of that editorial:
“A growing number of military medical professionals believe burn pits are causing a wave of respiratory and other illnesses among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Found on almost all U.S. bases in the war zones, these open-air trash sites operate 24 hours a day, incinerating trash of all forms — including plastic bottles, paint, petroleum products, unexploded ordinance, hazardous materials, even amputated limbs and medical waste. Their smoke plumes belch dioxin, carbon monoxide and other toxins skyward, producing a toxic fog that hangs over living and working areas. Yet while the Air Force fact sheet flatly states that burn pits “can be harmful to human health and environment and should only be used until more suitable disposal capabilities are established,” the Pentagon line is that burn pits have “no known long-term health effects.”
On April 12, 2010, the Richmond Times-Dispatch carried an article by David Zucchino who investigated the American burn pits in Iraq. He interviewed Army Sgt. 1st Class Francis Jaeger who hauled military waste to the Balad burn pit which was being operated by a civilian contractor for the Pentagon. Jaeger told Zucchino:
“We were told to burn everything – electronics, bloody gauze, the medics’ biohazard bags, surgical gloves, cardboard. It all went up in smoke.”
The Pentagon now admits to operating 84 “official” burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of unofficial burn pits is not known. The Pentagon claims that it is phasing out its burn pits in favor of incinerators and that 27 incinerators are currently operating in Iraq and Afghanistan with 82 more to be added in the near future.
According to a website called the “Burn Pits Action Center,” hundreds of American veterans who came in contact with burn pit smoke have been diagnosed with cancer, neurological diseases, cardiovascular disease, breathing and sleeping problems and various skin rashes. In 2009, they filed more than 30 lawsuits in Federal courts across the United States, naming Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), and its former parent company Halliburton. These companies were named because of their involvement in the LOGCAP (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan. Several KBR entities either managed or assisted in the management of the American military’s waste in both countries and allegedly operated some or all of the burn pits. Additional lawsuits were filed in 2010, including one in Federal District Court in New Jersey.
The lawsuits reveal that the Pentagon has ignored American and international environmental laws and the results appear to be the widespread release of hazardous pollutants into the air, soil, surface water and groundwater across Afghanistan. This is a persistent problem that continues today. Unlike Saudi Arabia which insisted that American forces cleanup their pollution after the war to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, or the Government of Canada which likewise insisted on a strict cleanup of American bases on its soil, the Government of Afghanistan has been unable to force the Americans and their allies to repair all the environmental damage that they have caused and continue to cause. Afghanistan does not want to wind up like Vietnam. While American ground combat units withdrew from South Vietnam in 1972, neither Vietnam nor its people have recovered from the long term environmental damage and mutagenic effects that American military operations and their exotic chemicals caused.
This article summarizes the problem of America’s military wastes and examines the types of hazardous wastes that are likely to have been released into Afghanistan.
Part 2 of this series will address the contradictory responses by the Pentagon to this problem and it will explore one of the remedies that the Pentagon is currently implementing, which is to phase out the burn pits, replacing them with incinerators. The article examines the flaws in that strategy and why Afghanistan should carefully consider whether to permit the continued use of military incinerators.
Part 3 of this series will set out the recommendations of the author to the Government of Afghanistan on how to investigate and clean up the pollution of Afghanistan’s countryside caused by the burn pits, landfills and other disposal facilities used by American forces.
The Sources or Means by Which the Various Wastes Are Being Released
The American military hazardous wastes that are believed to have entered the air, soil, groundwater and surface water of Afghanistan did so through the following methods (this list is partial only):
Burying/landfilling of the waste and ash
Leaking storage tanks, sumps and basins
Categories of Amercian Military Waste
The American military’s waste, at this time, cannot be completely characterized. The volume and variety of waste (i.e., thousands of different chemicals) are not known and there are certain to be classified items and materials which have been brought into Afghanistan for which there may be no documentation. Regardless of that, much is known about the materials and chemicals that the military routinely uses and about the waste that it routinely generates. Most American military wastes will falls into one of the following twelve (12) categories:
The Dirty Dozen:
1. Fuel leaks and spills. These include releases of aviation fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel. These releases would range from large releases at American airbases of hundreds or even thousands of liters, to minor spills at Forward Operating Bases and combat outposts as soldiers seek to refill diesel generators. Petroleum residues have the ability to leach rapidly into underground drinking water aquifers and create plumes that will permanently contaminate local wells. There is no known way to completely remediate a groundwater source after it has been contaminated with hydrocarbons.
2. Paints, asbestos, solvents, grease, cleaning solutions (such as perchloethylene) and building materials that contain formaldehyde, copper, arsenic and hydrogen cyanide.
3. Hydraulic fluids, aircraft de-icing fluids, antifreeze and used oil. Used oil is carcinogenic, anti-freeze is poisonous, de-icing fluids can contain hazardous ethylene and propylene glycol, along with toxic additives such as benzotriazoce (which is a corrosion and flame inhibitor). Hydraulic fluids can contain TPP (triphenyl phosphate).
4. Pesticide/poison leaks and spills: Afghanistan apparently has no list of the pesticides, fungicides, termiticides and other poisons that the Americans brought into Afghanistan and used, spilled and released into the countryside in order to control flies, mosquitos, ants, fleas and rodents. The military refers to such practices as “vector control.” It is expected that the list of such neuro-toxins and the quantity sprayed or spilled throughout Afghanistan is staggering.
5. Lead, nickel, zinc and cadmium battery waste and acids (which are toxic and/or corrosive).
6. Electronic waste (or E-waste). This includes computers, printers, faxes, screens, televisions, radios, refrigerators, communications gear, test equipment. They contain cancer-causing chemicals such as the flame retardant PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), PCDD (polychlorinated dioxins), barium, copper, lead, zinc, cadmium oxides and cadmium sulphides and trivalent antimony, which is eco-toxic.
7. Light bulbs. This may not seem important but many military light bulbs are fluorescent and therefore contain toxic levels of mercury. Disposal of these light bulbs in ordinary landfills is prohibited in the United States.
8. Plastics. The U.S. military uses thousands of different types and formulations of plastic. While most are harmless in their present state, such as plastic water bottles and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) piping, the military has been burning its plastic waste in Afghanistan. When burned, many plastics release a deadly mix of chemicals including dioxins, furans, benzene, di 2-ethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP), hydrochloric acid, benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and various acids and chlorine gas (which is a neurotoxin). Breathing a few seconds of this mixture in a concentrated form would likely be fatal.
9. Medical Waste. Infectious disease waste and biohazard materials, including used syringes, bloody bandages, sheets, gloves, expired drugs, amputated limbs and animal carcasses.
10. Ammunition waste. Lead, brass and other metals from ammunition along with all the constituents of the propellants, including trininitrotoluene, picric acid, diphenylamine, nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, potassium nitrate, barium nitrate, tetracene, diazodintrophenol, phosphorus, peroxides, thiocarbamate, potassium chlorate, vinyl fluoride, vinyl chloride, sodium fluoride and sodium sulfate.
11. Radioactive waste. When one thinks of radioactive waste, usually one thinks only of atomic weapons, but that is not the case. The American military routinely uses a variety of devices and equipment that contain radioactive elements or radioluminescent elements. These materials are referred to as “Radioactive Commodities” by the American military. The primary radioactive materials are: Uranium, Tritium, Radium 226, Americium 241, Thorium, Cesium 137 and Plutonium 239.
Some of the equipment containing radioactive elements:
Night Vision Devices
M-16 Front Sight Post Assemblies
M72 Light Antitank Weapons
T-55 Aircraft Engine components
M58 and M59 Light Aiming Posts
M4 Front Sight Post Assemblies
RADIAC Calibrator Sets and Check Sources
L4A1 Quadrant Fire Control Devices
Fire Control Azimuths
M-1 Muzzle Reference Sensors
Soil Moisture Density Testers
TACOM Vehicle Dials and Gauges
Radios, including VRC-46/GRC-106/GRC-19
Chemical Agent Monitors
Vehicle Depleted Uranium Plates
Depleted Uranium Ammunition, including 20 millimeter ammunition
Electron Tubes for Communications Equipment
Various types of Laboratory and Hospital Analysis and Testing Machines.
Note: The American military will likely insist that it strictly controls the disposal of radioactive waste, but such assertions are not credible. While there are strict regulations, the time and cost of complying with them in a war zone are such that base commanders in Afghanistan most likely ignored them, opting instead for throwing the waste into burn pits. The evidence for this is contained in Part 3 of this Report, which cites to a Pentagon-funded study of what American field commanders think of the Pentagon’s environmental regulations.
If the American military continues to insist that it did not release radioactive materials in Afghanistan it should document such assertions by releasing its records. The Pentagon should publicly release all data on every radioactive commodity brought into Afghanistan. They should all be listed in HMIRS (the Hazardous Materials Information System). The Pentagon should then detail where each commodity is today.
12. Grey and Black Water. The American military and its contractors in Afghanistan operate human waste facilities. The military refers to these as LSS (Latrine, Shower and Shave) facilities. They generate what is known as grey and black waste-water. Grey water from sinks and showers has as its primary pollutant soap residue (i.e., phosphates and other chemicals that generate what is known as BOD – biological oxygen demand, which means they can absorb all the available oxygen in streams and rivers so fish cannot breathe). Some American soaps contain additives such as MIT (methylisothiazolinone), which is under investigation as a toxin.
Latrines generate black water pollution. While the American military has to adhere to strict rules regarding the discharge of such waste in the United States, it faces no restrictions in Afghanistan. Latrines can be dug near ground water and even upgradient from surface water (so that discharges can flow into them). There are no known maps of all the American latrines. After a latrine pit is filled, it is apparently covered over with dirt and forgotten.
While environmental releases involving categories 1 and 12 above are a certainty, it is feared that millions of kilograms and millions of liters of wastes set out in categories 2 through 11 were all thrown into the hundreds of American burn pits in Afghanistan or dumped into secret landfills. If true, the American legacy to Afghanistan is not freedom, but pollution.
In February 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began an 18-month study of the burn pits in Afghanistan and their effect on human health. Afghanistan cannot wait eighteen months for the results of this study, it has to act now.
The author is a former U.S. Air Force Captain. He advised on environmental cleanups at Logistics Command regarding the Air Force’s most contaminated bases and depots. He then worked for Bechtel Environmental and was involved in Superfund cleanups across the United States and radiological cleanups at U.S. Department of Energy sites. He later served as a consultant to a group of environmental remediation companies, smelters and waste recyclers.
Sources for Further Reading:
Houston Chronicle – February 7, 2010 – “GIs tell of horror from burn pits”
Los Angeles Times – February 18, 2010 – “Veterans speak out against burn pits”
The New York Times – February 25, 2010 – “Health Panel Begins Probing Impacts of Burn Pits”
Salem-News – March 29, 2010 – “Sick Veterans Sue KBR Over Iraq and Afghanistan Burn Pits”
AFP – November 10, 2009 – “Troops sue KBR over toxic waste in Iraq, Afghanistan”
U.S. Department of the Army Pamphlet 700-48
April 21, 2010
Senator B.J. Cruz from Guam is demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency require the U.S. military to test for radiation contamination be conducted in Apra Harbor before dredging and dumping of the sediment is approved. He is right to demand these studies. It is widely known that U.S. navy ships have leaked radioactive water in Apra. Given the nuclear history of the Mariana islands, it is reasonable to expect that there is radioactive sediment in the harbor.
In Hawai’i, radioactive Cobalt 60 contaminates the sediment in Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor), leaked from the nuclear power plants on navy ships. The EPA knows this, but is not requiring a thorough clean up. The EPA should at least require that the military study the contamination of the harbor sediment to know the baseline level of environmental and human health risk that exists.
Cruz demands radiation tests
THURSDAY, 22 APRIL 2010 04:34 BY THERESE HART | VARIETY NEWS STAFF
VICE Speaker BJ Cruz is protesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s policy decision to not require radiation testing for dredged materials from Apra Harbor that would be dumped into the proposed ocean disposal site.
EPA said the testing was not necessary, prompting Cruz to fire off a letter to Nancy Woo, associate director of EPA’s water division for Region 9.
“It appears then that the dumping of any radioactive sediment under that equivalency threshold is an acceptable practice,” Cruz wrote.
“I take this to mean that, absent any proof that fuel and concentrated waste from nuclear reactors or materials used for radiological warfare were leaked into Apra Harbor, dredging and dumping may proceed without testing. That I cannot accept,” he added.
According to the Federal Register, EPA is proposing to designate the Guam Deep Ocean Disposal Site as a permanent ocean-dredged material disposal site located offshore of Guam. Disposal operations at the site will be limited to a maximum of 1 million cubit yards a calendar year and must be conducted in accordance with EPA’s site management and monitoring plan.
The Federal Register further reads that EPA should conduct an extensive series of tests and studies to determine if radiation exists in Apra Harbor waters or its sediments to independently confirm the Navy’s claim that the amount of leakage from nuclear-powered vessels is insignificant.
Woo has sent Cruz the final environmental impact statement for the designation of an offshore ocean-dredged material disposal site.
In an April 14 letter, Woo assured Cruz that his concerns regarding radiation in dredged sentiment in Apra Harbor and its dumping in Guam waters have been addressed, but the vice speaker said he was far from reassured.
Woo cited USEPA regulations that prohibit ocean disposal of high-level radioactive waste and materials. Woo also stated that radioactivity testing will be required when there is reason to believe that elevated levels of radiation may be present.
The rules that Woo cites refers to fuel and concentrated waste from nuclear reactors and materials used for radiological warfare.
Cruz said he is concerned that EPA will allow the dumping of any radioactive material below high levels of concentration, which he said, is obvious.
Cruz believes that before any dredging occurs in Apra Harbor, samples taken from the depth of the proposed dredge must first be tested for radiation.
“It is common knowledge that the U.S. Navy discharged radioactive material into Apra Harbor on more than one occasion. It is imperative, then, that no dredging of the harbor take place until adequate radiation testing independent from that reported by the U.S. Navy has been conducted on proposed dredge sites,” wrote Cruz.