Defense Cleanup: A Quick and Dirty Review. (Hazardous Waste)

By Black, Harvey | Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Defense Cleanup: A Quick and Dirty Review. (Hazardous Waste)


Black, Harvey, Environmental Health Perspectives


Over 9,000 formerly used defense sites, or FUDS, dot the landscape of the United States and its territories. These sites include storage depots, military bases, radar stations, and missile sites. Although the sites have been retired, the hazards contained on some of them have not--structurally unsound buildings, radioactive and toxic wastes, explosives, and chemical warfare agents all remain, and will cost an estimated $16 billion to clean up, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Candice Walters. The corps is responsible for determining whether the Department of Defense (DOD) caused the contamination on such sites and for cleaning up military-related contamination. Sites that are determined to not have been contaminated by the DOD are classified as "no DOD action indicated," or NDAI. But according to the August 2002 General Accounting Office (GAO) report Environmental Contamination: The Corps Needs to Reassess Its Determinations That Many Formerly Used Defense Sites Do Not Need Cleanup, nearly 40% of the corps' decisions on DOD responsibility are "questionable."

The report was requested by John Dingell (D-Michigan) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, who has long expressed concern about pollution and the military. The GAO reviewed a random sample of 603 records of corps examinations and estimated, based on the evidence in the files, that the corps was not justified in determining that 1,468 of a total of 3,840 sites do not require DOD action. In one example cited in the report, maps of a former military airfield indicated the presence of a building for storing bombs, but there was no indication that the corps searched for this building and the possible hazards posed by leftover munitions. "[T]here is no evidence that the Corps reviewed or obtained information that would allow it to identify all the potential hazards at the [questionable] sites or that it took sufficient steps to assess the presence of potential hazards," the report concludes.

"Many of the FUDS properties are [now] owned by private individuals. These are now homes, schools, parks where people are going. You don't know what level of risk exists in those areas," says Sherry McDonald, a senior GAO analyst who worked on the report. …

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