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From Draft NOtices, April — June 2009

The U.S. Military’s Toxic Legacy

A digest of online articles

– Compiled by Mernie Aste


The Green Valley News and Sun of August 29, 2007, has an article by Riley Merline about the island of Vieques, famous for years of protest and the site of 60 years of military occupation by the U.S. Navy. The 10,000 people who live there, along with the 25 endangered species, are surrounded by unexploded munitions and 37 toxic sites. The cancer rate is 30% higher than on the main island of Puerto Rico. “For more than half a century, the Navy carried out live fire training exercises, including the use of depleted uranium (despite the Navy’s own prohibiting its use during peacetime or training) and napalm.” While unexploded bombs are detonated weekly in designated open pits, they continue to destroy the environment and contaminate the island.

Since the 1993 transfer of ownership of Hunter’s Point Navy Shipyard to the City and County of San Francisco, its citizens have been struggling with exposure to the toxic residue. In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 18, 2007), “A development firm building 1,600 new homes . . . has allowed clouds of toxic construction dust to escape from the site exposing neighbors and schoolchildren to potentially harmful airborne asbestos.” The San Francisco Gray Panthers blog writes of a hearing before the San Francisco School Board in October of 2007 at which “dozens of parents, teachers, administrators and buildings and grounds supervisors testified that toxic dust from the grading activities on the site was causing headaches, nosebleeds, asthma, bronchitis and declining school performance.”

In 2008, Project Censored of California’s Sonoma State University nominated “The Military’s Toxic Legacy to America” as one of the most underreported and important issues.

“While a generation of new laws and a growing environmental consciousness are slowly causing private industry to become concerned about the environment, we are discovering that the U.S. Department of Defense is America’s most pervasive and protected polluter.

“The military’s 871 domestic installations, strung across 25 million acres of land, produce more tons of hazardous waste each year than the top five U.S. chemical companies combined. Nowhere in this country is the Pentagon’s environmental nightmare more vivid than at the Army’s Jefferson Proving Ground in southern Indiana. Since 1941, workers have test-fired 23 million artillery, mortar, and tank rounds across 90 square miles of forests and meadows. An estimated 1.4 million of those test rounds have not exploded – yet. The result is a 90-square mile wasteland armored with deadly debris. Jefferson is on the Pentagon’s closure list, and while shutting down the range will save the Pentagon $7 million a year, the cleanup costs will run into the billions.”

On September 19, 2008, The Washington Post published an article under the headline “States Accuse Pentagon of Threats, Retaliation Allegations Arise in Base Cleanup Hearing.” The article states: “A group representing state environmental officials says California, Colorado, Alabama, Ohio and about a dozen other states have been pressured by the Pentagon to back off the oversight of cleanup at polluted military sites.

“Alabama, for example, ordered the Army to clean up a former chemical weapons school, Camp Sibert, after a study ranked it worst in the nation among old military sites for the hazard of unexploded weapons. Soon after, the Pentagon withheld oversight money and held fast until Alabama revoked the cleanup order, said Dania Rodriguez of the association representing the states. “

On October 3, 2008, The Marine Corps Times included an article titled “Report: Army making toxic mess in War Zones” in which it cites a Rand Corporation report “that details cases of hazardous waste dumped in ditches, soldiers setting up tents on top of fuel spills and service members exposed to cyanide gas during overseas deployments.

“The report by the Rand Corp. think tank also says the Defense Department has no overarching policy to ensure that environmental mishaps in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t harm troops’ health, create political disputes and avoid costly clean-up efforts when it’s time to leave those countries.”

Appearing in Oregon’s on January 19, 2009, is a story set in Woodbridge, California, in the Irvine Ranch Water District. Citizens testified about the contamination of their water from TCE (trichloroethylene), a chemical degreaser the Marine Corps used for decades to clean the parts of jet fighters at El Toro Marine Base, then dumped into the groundwater system.

Marine Corps veterans have a Web site, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten (TFTPTF), centered around concerns about contaminated water at Marine Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Links include an “Illness Registration,” “Stories of Those Exposed,” and “Attorney Info.”

Camp Pendleton, cited in the San Diego Union Tribune on October 28, 2005, was reported to have excessive levels of lead in its drinking water. On November 22 that same year, another reporter writes about the 125,000-acre base’s environmental record: “Some of the trouble is decades old, from times before anyone realized the dangers of burying, burning or dumping hazardous materials. Others are more recent, such as Camp Pendleton’s difficulties with dangerously high levels of lead and copper in its tap water.”

According to the December 2008 Army Times, Maryland is suing the Army over pollution at Fort Meade.

In the Philippines, toxic waste from the mercury and nitrate that seeped into the wells of the Clark Air Base Command evacuation center, where residents got their drinking water, is believed to have caused the fatal leukemia of “the Child Toxic Warrior” Crizel Jane Valencia.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 1, 2000) writes: “The U.S. General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, had confirmed ‘serious contamination’ in the former bases right after the pullout of the Americans, according to documents obtained by the base’s cleanup task force.

“Two foreign-funded studies completed in 1998 had found more than 40 sites in Clark and Subic to be in various states of contamination, said the task force.”

Sunaura Taylor and Astra Taylor write on (posted August 4, 2006): “It’s an ugly truth that manufacturing weaponry to kill abroad also kills at home. The process involves toxic chemicals, metals and radioactive materials. As a consequence, the U.S. military produces more hazardous waste annually than the five largest international chemical companies combined. The Pentagon is responsible for over 1,400 properties contaminated with TCE.”

The Taylors are from South Tucson, Arizona, where their “neighborhood’s public water supply was one of thousands nationwide contaminated with TCE (along with a medley of other toxic chemicals including, ironically, arsenic). It wasn’t terrorists who laced our cups and bathtubs with these poisons – it was private contractors employed by the Air Force.”

“[In 1982,] Sunaura was born with a congenital birth defect known as arthrogryposis, a condition that severely impedes muscle growth and requires her to use an electric wheelchair. On nearby blocks, women were giving birth to babies with physical disabilities and neighbors were dying of cancer at worrisome rates. Over time, we learned that our groundwater was contaminated.

“Citizens, who pay for the military budget with their tax dollars, are also paying with their health and sometimes their lives.”

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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