Friday, March 13, 2015

Contamination from Abandoned Military Bases

Starting in the 1980s, citizen awareness and demands grew to know the extent of pollution, which then lead to the creation of the Superfund program in 1980. During the beginning stages, it was found that the Pentagon was generating more toxic waste than the 5 largest US chemical companies combined, resulting in being the largest polluter in the United States. During this time, the Army Corps of Engineers labeled the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver as the Earth’s most toxic square mile.

Today, nearly 900 of EPA’s 1,300 Superfund sites (waste sites classified as those most hazardous to human and ecological health) are abandoned military bases/facilities, manufacturing, and testing sites. The most common contaminants include metal cleaning solvents, pesticides, machine oils, metals, metal working fluids, and chemical ingredients used in explosives. Waste oil, fuel, solvents, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, radioactive materials and pesticides were dumped into pits, leaked from containers, buried in landfills, left in test ranges contaminating soil and drinking water.

Perchlorate has spread from military bases and defense and aerospace contractor plants into drinking water systems, and has also accumulated in leafy food crops and fruit irrigated with contaminated water. A recent study of powdered baby formula found that all types of both soy- and milk-based formula are contaminated with perchlorate, and that it has also been detected in breast milk and human urine throughout the United States. Over half the foods tested by the Food and Drug (FDA) administration contained perchlorate. 

Since the early 1990s, the Air force has been attempting a major cleanup of Lowry AFB, and recently signed a $30 million contract for soil cleanup. This is only for one specific contaminated abandoned base, and does not include the other 899 contaminated areas from Military Bases. What changes could be done when closing the military bases, or should the process begin with how these chemicals are treated and disposed of while the base is still open?

Tessa Millhollin

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