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
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-
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
"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 The
Washington Post this week that the total tab for cleaning up UXO
could range from $14 billion to "several times" that amount. …