Say "unexploded ordnance" and most Americans think of bombs still being unearthed in Europe 60 years after World War II.
Or the jungles and rice paddies of Laos, where thousands of aerial weapons and land mines left over from the Vietnam War still kill or injure about 250 people a year.
But many places around the United States are littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO) as well - bombs, rockets, artillery rounds, grenades, mines, and other military munitions. Even though major battles have not been fought on US soil since the Civil War, such ordnance is the result of practicing for possible conflict.
That American servicemen and women need to "train the way they fight" is the Pentagon mantra. That means soldiers and marines firing live ordnance, Air Force pilots and naval aviators dropping real bombs.
According to government documents made public this week by a watchdog group, there are an estimated 16,000 military ranges containing unexploded ordnance. In total, they contaminate up to 40 million acres of land, an area larger than Florida, reports Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a private organization in Washington that works with government whistle- blowers.
Many of these places are retired military bases where cleanup is going on. It's an expensive process that can cost thousands of dollars per acre, sometimes adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars for a single site.
Most sites are in remote areas, but some are near population centers. Fort Ord in California, for example, is now the site of the Monterey Bay campus of California State University. A World War I Army chemical weapons site is in the Spring Valley neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
"The true magnitude of this unfolding ecological disaster is masked by the Pentagon's unwillingness to complete a reliable inventory or adopt credible cleanup rules," says PEER executive director Jeff Ruch.
The Defense Department acknowledges that "there are many significant scientific, policy, and technical challenges in responding to military munitions." And the Pentagon reports that "the scope and magnitude of the FUDS [formerly used defense sites] program are significant, with over 9,000 properties identified for potential inclusion in the program."
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Raymond DuBois told …