Local governments move to open Agent Orange probes
Published : Jun 12, 2011 - 19:16
Updated : Jun 12, 2011 - 19:16
Civic group urges investigation of all U.S. bases

Provincial governments are moving to verify whether areas near U.S. military facilities are contaminated amid heightened public worries over the alleged burial of Agent Orange at Camp Carroll in Waegwan, North Gyeongsang Province.

Some environmentalists and activists criticized the U.S. military for being overly “slow and careful” in conducting its investigation into its facilities in question. They also called on it to disclose records of its past environmental inspections at its bases.

Gyeonggi Province is at the forefront of the moves to check whether water and soil around U.S. installations are polluted with toxic substances.

Of the total 93 former and current U.S. military sites in Korea, 51 are located in the province. Twenty-three of the 51 sites in the province were handed over to South Korean control.

Dongducheon City plans to collect soil samples near Camp Casey and Camp Hovey on Monday. Pyeongtaek City plans to take environmental samples around an air base and Camp Humphreys on Wednesday. Uijeongbu City will gather samples near Camp Stanley.

As concerns remain over the allegation that Agent Orange was sprayed over the Demilitarized Zone in the late 1960s, Paju City will check the DMZ for dioxin, a cancer-causing component of the defoliant.

Gunsan City Council in North Jeolla Province is calling for a government-civilian team to investigate whether the environment there has been contaminated by the U.S. military, which allegedly leaked waste oil and buried asbestos there.

Civic groups in Incheon are calling on the government to carry out an inspection inside the defunct Camp Mercer, where one former U.S. Forces Korea soldier alleged that “every imaginable chemical” had been dumped.

Chuncheon, Gangwon Province has asked the Defense Ministry to conduct another investigation at an ex-U.S. base called Camp Page, where some retired American soldiers claimed Agent Orange was buried. It said the initial probe failed to address its worries about chemical contamination.

Last week, an alliance of some 80 civic groups stressed that an environmental survey of all U.S. military facilities should be carried out to alleviate public concerns over the defoliant, which is known to cause cancer, neural disorders and fetal deformities.

On Monday, the group plans to hold a session to point out problems concerning measures by the U.S. military and the Seoul government to resolve contamination issues.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, a Korea-U.S. team conducted an investigation at a helipad in Camp Carroll where one former American soldier said hundreds of drums of Agent Orange were likely to have been buried.

On Wednesday, the probe team will start preparing for an investigation into “Area D” at the camp, a swath of land reportedly used as a “hazardous waste landfill” from 1977-1982.

The U.S. military here said they transported chemical substances they stored in Area 41 to Area D, and that they dug out some 40-60 tons of contaminated soil and chemicals in Area D and disposed of them from 1979-80.

The alleged dumping of Agent Orange has also prompted public calls for a full-scale environmental inspection of the 85 sites that the U.S. returned to the Seoul government between 1990 and 2003 without environmental surveys.

Some here have also clamored for the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement to allow Korea to hold the U.S. strictly responsible if its military has caused environmental pollution in Korea.

The current SOFA rules state that the U.S. government shall confirm its policy to “respect” ― rather than “observe” ― South Korea’s relevant environmental laws, regulations and standards.

By Song Sang-ho (