Mahalo to Big Island Weekly for continuing to track the Depleted Uranium contamination in Hawai’i.
Army official: We never meant to clean up DU
By Alan D. Mcnarie
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 11:08 AM HST
According to a high Army official, the Army never intended to remove depleted uranium ammunition remnants from Pohakuloa Training Area and Shofield Barracks, and it has no plans to do so for as long as the firing ranges at those facilities are still in use.
“The Army requested a license for possession, not decommissioning, of the legacy DU at the affected Army installations,” wrote Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Army Addison D. “Tad” Davis IV to Congresswoman Mazie Hirono on May 26 of this year. Davis added, “Currently the Army has no plans for the removal of the legacy DU. The ranges containing DU are still in use, and most, if not all, of these ranges also contain unexploded ordnance, which is significantly more hazardous than any DU that might be present on these ranges. Should those ranges be scheduled for closure at some future date, the Army will address the DU present as part of the range closure….”
The “legacy DU” referred to in the letter is believed to be fragments of spotting rounds from cold-war-era Davy Crockett nuclear artillery. In 2008, the Army submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a permit to “possess” the DU; its original permit had expired in 1964. The NRC’s ruling on that application is still pending, though the NRC has criticized the Army’s plan to monitor the DU in the area as ineffective. (See “NRC to Army: DU Monitoring Plan Won’t Work” in the archives at http://www.bigislandweekly.com.) A sub-agency called the Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs is entertaining a petition from Hawaiian activist Isaac Harp to discipline the army over the expired permit. Hirono had asked Davis what the army had done to address public concerns about “environmental, health and safety” hazards that the DU posed.
The Army has repeatedly contended that the DU does not present a significant hazard to the island’s population. Davis’s letter to Hirono continued to maintain the Army’s position. He claimed that the soil concentration of DU at the Army ranges was estimated at 1-4 pCi/g (picocuries of DU per gram of soil), which averaged “much less than the NRC decommissioning levels of uranium in soil (14 pCi/g of Uranium 238, the major constituent of DU), and are not much above soil concentrations of naturally occurring uranium.”
“The Army has collected numerous air and soil samples, none of which indicate that the DU at Hawaii’s ranges has migrated off-range…,” Davis contended.
Not so, says Dr. Lorrin Pang, a former Army doctor and frequent critic of the Army’s handling of the DU issue.
“That’s absolutely not true. Even their own tests at Waiki’i [on the Saddle Road near Pohakuloa] found it [DU] in dust at low levels. I think the correct scientific interpretation is, it was there,” Pang told the Big Island Weekly.
Pang also challenged Davis’s assertion that “Many independent scientific studies of depleted uranium in the environment show that DU presents no significant ‘environmental, health and safety [hazard],’ especially at the soil concentrations of the DU on Hawaii’s ranges.” Pang noted that the NRC itself had criticized the Army’s monitoring protocols as inadequate; he maintained that the Army simply didn’t know, yet, how much DU was located at Pohakuloa.
“You don’t have a system in place to monitor and baseline, and then you’re gonna tell me the risks?” he asked skeptically. “Tad Allen isn’t a scientist. He’s an MBA from Harvard. If he makes these statements, he’d better refer to scientists who will defend them…
First of all, if you say, we never intended to clean it up, how much is there? You don’t even know.”
The proper scientific approach, he maintained was, “First tell me, how much [DU] is there. Then you’ve got to tell, me, what is the risk? Then you’ve got to tell me the response: if you’re going to clean it up or not.”
And the army’s own “friendly fire” studies on servicepeople exposed to DU were so badly flawed, he maintained, that the researchers hadn’t even recorded tumors, so the health risks were also not known. Without knowing either the quantity of DU or the health risk, the proper course of action was impossible to determine.
He added that that appropriate course of action might turn out to be something other than cleaning up the DU.
“Maybe they don’t have to clean it up,” he said. “Maybe they just promise never to use it again. Maybe they keep the dust down.”
Davis’s letter also provoked a response from Cory Harden, who has been monitoring the DU controversy for the Sierra Club. Harden noted that when Davis wrote , “the Army has collected numerous soil and air samples, none of which indicate that the DU…has migrated off range,” he didn’t mention testimony by geologist and radiation expert Dr. Mike Reimer, who had reviewed the Army’s proposed DU monitoring system and found that the holes in the filters on the Army’s detection devices were “ten times too large.”
She also questioned Davis’ statement that the DU disposal problem would be addressed when the firing ranges were finally decommissioned. She noted that after the military took over Kaho’olawe for a bombing range, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower had promised to return the island in habitable condition – but when it was finally returned 50 years later, massive bombing had cracked the caprock, draining the island’s freshwater supply, and most of the island’s land still had not been entirely cleared of ordnance.
What the Army actually does with the DU, however, may depend not on what it intended or intends to do, but on what the NRC tells it to do. Few expect the NRC not to grant the Army a permit to possess the DU – after all, the stuff is already in the ground – but it may well impose conditions on the Army, including a more viable monitoring program and possibly a cleanup strategy.