US DoD accused of ignoring toxic chem cleanup

30 June 2008 22:57  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Members of Congress accused the Department of Defense (DoD) on Monday of engaging in bureaucratic turf wars rather than cleaning toxic chemicals from three of its Air Force bases.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell (Democrat-Michigan) and Environment and Hazardous Materials subcommittee chairman-designee Gene Green (Democratic-Texas) said the DoD has ignored US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) timelines in cleaning chemical contamination at Fort Meade in Maryland, McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

“As the nation’s largest polluter, the defense department must comply with our toxic waste laws in the same manner as private individuals or companies. In this case, we have DoD seeking to self-regulate, contrary to the law and the clear intent of Congress,” Dingell said in statement.

The EPA issued “final orders” to the DoD over the past year calling for the removal of toxic substances such as perchloroethylene (perc) and trichloroethylene (TCE), heavy metals and arsenic from the sites. “Final orders” can result in court-ordered compliance and fines.

The chemicals, some of which were said to have leached into the regions’ groundwater supplies, pose “an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and environment,” EPA administrative assistant Grant Nakayama wrote in official correspondence.

But the DoD argues that its bases do not fall under EPA jurisdiction. Instead, the military argues, it conducts its own toxic cleanups under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and only voluntarily follows EPA timelines.

It has also declined to form contracts with the EPA in the decontamination of 12 of its properties listed as Superfund sites, which are considered the country’s most polluted places, according to government documents.

“DoD and EPA have conflicting legal views on the authority of the EPA to issue these imminent and substantial endangerment orders,” DoD officials wrote in a May letter to the Department of Justice.

An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment on what she called ongoing investigation. DoD officials did not immediately reply to questions.

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By: Ben Lefebvre
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