Cleanup of Military Waste on Right Track
Patches of Utah held underground tanks that refueled World War II military trucks. Whole ranges served as experiment stations for testing toxic nerve gases or rock-busting explosives.
Abandoned military sites like these have been a focus of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two decades. Nearly 60 in Utah were deemed likely to hold bomb fragments, toxic waste and other worrisome wartime leftovers.
"Their focus was winning the war," said the Corps' Jerry Vincent, whose agency hosted a recent open house on the sites at Utah Department of Environmental Quality headquarters. "Now, our focus is cleaning up what they did."
The Corps gave a progress report last week on nearly three dozen sites in northern Utah.
The state's crucial role in preparing for war and developing its weaponry left many potential cleanup sites. Congress put the Corps in charge of assessing and, if needed, cleaning. Nationwide, 9,181 locations appeared to be likely candidates.
Corps investigators looked for:
--Unsafe buildings, structures and debris.
--Hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste.
--Containers of dangerous waste that might include solvents.
--Ordnance and explosive waste, some of which might contain chemical warfare agents.
Troops apparently did a good job of picking up after themselves in Utah, said Vincent.
Nine of 58 abandoned sites in the state have been fully cleared so far. And state environmental officials have signed off on the Corps' conclusions.
Rik Ombach, who monitors the Corps' work for the Utah Division of Environmental Response and Remediation, said 10 more may soon have the "No DoD Action Indicated" stamp, meaning investigators found nothing to clean up.
They include three on Salt Lake City's East Bench: the Fort Douglas Toxic Exercise Area, the Red Butte Reservoir and an old aircraft display site located at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Sunnyside Avenue.
Another no-action site is Camp Kearns, 5,643 acres used for up to 15,000 troops in World War II. Located at intersection of 4700 South and 4800 West, it now includes the 2002 Olympic skating oval and a bustling community of homes and businesses.
Said Vincent: "There wasn't anything left to be concerned about."
The Corps already has addressed some suspect sites. They include two trenches, the grave of more than 1,600 sheep that died in 1968 after a leak of the potent nerve agent VX from Dugway Proving Ground.
In 2000, the Corps determined there was no residual contamination at the site or on the sheep. They had the carcasses dug up five years ago and dumped in a Wendover landfill.
Three years ago, the Corps came under attack for its handling of the program. Auditors at what was then called the federal General Accounting Office reported that the Corps was doing a poor job of public relations, especially with other government agencies.
In addition, it also became apparent that the pace of cleanups will continue to be slow. Some $3.4 billion has already been spent on the assessments and cleanups. Some estimate $20 billion more -- and perhaps a century -- is needed to get the job done.
One Utah cleanup that has dragged on is a former testing ground for bombs and chemical weapons, about 23,085 acres associated with Yellow Jacket mine ranges. Used to test bombs to deal with Japanese soldiers who hid in hardened bunkers, the area was peppered with more than 2,900 bombs, rockets and mortars.
The devices, which contained phosgene, mustard gas, napalm, gasoline and other dangerous chemicals, were found at the site. Some were found unexploded in the mid-1980s.
The family that owns 1,425 affected acres got tired of waiting for a cleanup. It tried to sue the government but lost two years ago.
The Corps has since scheduled the site for reinvestigation.
The date? 2007.
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News