Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The US role in Guam's Environmental Problems

How much of Ordot's environmental problem comes from U.S. government?
By Luis Szyfres
3 Feb, 2007
Pacific Daily News

Dorado Landfill (the Ordot dump) started out as a dumping ground for the U.S naval forces in the 1940s. During the 1950s, the landfill was transferred from the Navy to the government of Guam and has served as the island's only municipal waste disposal site ever since.

A study by the EPA (Dorado Landfill Leachate Streams, 1980-1998) identified 17 toxic chemicals in the Ordot dump. All of them belong to the EPA's 2002 list of "Priority Toxic Pollutants," including: arsenic; lead; aluminum; barium; antimony; cadmium; chromium; manganese; pesticides; PCBs; toluene; ethylbenzene; xylenes, zinc and cyanide.

In the landfills at Andersen Air Force Base, the studies of shallow subsurface soil and groundwater from downgradient wells found all the same 17 "Priority Toxic Pollutants."

How has the federal government performed the cleanup of its dumpsites on Guam? Throwing the toxic chemicals in dumpsites, or burning them with napalm? Giving the dumpsites to the private citizens or the local government? All these toxic chemicals (were) stored in federal facilities in Guam since the 1950s, and are present to this day in very high concentrations, above the accepted standards of the EPA. The irony is that it is precisely the EPA that has the mission of setting up the regulations,
and if any toxic chemical is above the concentrations stipulated in the regulations, they have to enforce the law -- but they never enforced anything with federal government landfills.

These toxic chemicals enter the bloodstream and may affect any organ or system in the body. Some examples of the most common diseases associated with these chemicals include: cancer; Parkinson's; multiple sclerosis; Alzheimer's; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; renal dysfunction; cardiovascular disease; liver dysfunction; deafness; blindness; epilepsy; seizures; attention deficit disorder; emotional instability; depression; learning disabilities; arthritis; joint pain; anemia; hypothyroidism;
stillbirths; infertility; immune suppression; and dementia.

The federal government states that the situation represents a "great and immediate health threat to the people of the island."

U.S. Assistant Attorney Mikel W. Schwab described the government Guam's performance as "unacceptable and a chronic failure." He said that despite the involvement of several government agencies, nobody was paying attention to the great and immediate health threat to the people of the island. The local government's institutional failure and lack of leadership mean resources are being wasted," Schwab said (in the Dec. 21 Marianas Variety.)

It is obvious that the families of Guam do not put in the garbage cyanide, arsenic, lead, barium, cadmium, ethylbenzene and many other very toxic chemicals.

We can only say that, superimposed upon the toxic chemicals from the federal government, the people of Guam discard waste derived from residential and commercial activities.

The most important question: Does it make any sense to clean up only one of 25 dumpsites with toxic chemicals?

The EPA Superfund list of landfills in Guam that need cleanup includes 25 sites, but some sites have numerous landfills: i.e. Andersen Air Force Base has 39 landfills. Thus, in a small island, 30 miles long and 8 miles wide, we have about 100 dumpsites with toxic chemicals.

The toxic chemicals from the dumpsites will disperse throughout the entire island of Guam due to evaporation, rains, infiltration and typhoons.

The study of the EPA in the Andersen Air Force Base dumpsites in Urunao, Guam, states: "Surface soil samples were not analyzed for volatile organic compounds because geological and meteorological conditions on Guam induce volatilization and infiltration.

For example, with lead:

Airborne dust and dirt with lead may travel long distances, spreading the contamination when it falls from the air (to the) soil and groundwater.

Lead may remain stuck to soil particles or sediment in water for many years, or be moved by the rainwater, spreading to rivers, lakes and streams.

The levels of lead may build up in plants and animals from areas where air, water or soil are contaminated with lead.

People are exposed to lead by breathing air, drinking water, eating foods or swallowing dust that contains lead.

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