This should not be the cost of freedom

Published 10:28 am Saturday, June 5, 2010

Local citizens and elected officials have been united in their opposition to a proposed new Outlying Landing Field (in the region around Naval Air Station Oceana).

The arguments are numerous and well-founded. The OLF would force residents off their lands, destroy tight-knit communities, create few long-term civilian jobs, produce unbearable noise pollution and negatively affect both human and environmental health.

Fears of toxic contamination and ecosystem destruction are tangible threats supported by a trail of evidence. A brief look at the U.S. Navy’s record reveals a pattern of violations of safe environmental practices.

In many cases, the ultimate public health costs borne by the women and men of the U.S. military, their families and the surrounding communities in which these facilities are situated are enormous.

A comprehensive study conducted by the Navy itself in 1993 announced that an astounding 94 percent of current and former Navy facilities had pollution problems involving the presence of at least one “contaminant of potential concern.”

These chemicals include cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls, hazardous pesticides, fuels, metals, and various organic compounds, among other substances. Surprisingly, a large proportion of the sites have yet to be cleaned up, nearly two decades after the problems were discovered.

Our region is no stranger to this type of harm. Camp Lejeune’s water supply was subject to years of contamination from leaking storage tanks, spills and improper disposal of hazardous chemicals, exposing up to one million people to known carcinogens.

Benzene — frequently linked to leukemia — and trichloroethylene — a compound tied to cancers, birth defects, and liver and kidney damage — were found at over 280 times the levels considered safe for consumption.

More disturbing is the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps, which acts under the Navy’s authority, knew of the contamination for years before taking action. Marine families have suffered for decades from leukemia, lymphoma, liver disease, miscarriages and birth defects, and are asking why those in power did not act to protect them.

With the brass hiding the extent and dangers of the contamination for decades, many individuals — including those who proudly served our country — died without ever knowing the cause of their afflictions.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not alone. Many of the facilities identified in the Navy’s study were (or still are) highly contaminated. In Alaska, former NAS Adak had 181 sites listed or evaluated for chemical contamination.

Chemical spills, poor disposal practices and leaking storage tanks resulted in the pollution of soil, surface water, groundwater and sediment. Ecologically valuable wetlands were degraded and a variety of species were threatened, leading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare NAS Adak a Superfund site — land contaminated by hazardous waste that poses a risk to human health and the environment — and place it on the National Priority List for clean-up.

Similarly, at NAS Brunswick in Maine 26 contaminated sites and areas of concern were identified as having unsafe levels of pollution, caused by industrial waste, asbestos, acid disposal, leaking tanks and pesticides. Not surprisingly, NAS Brunswick is listed on the NPL as well.

The list goes on. NAS Jacksonville, NAS Patuxent River, NAS Pensacola, NAS Whidbey Island, NAS Whiting Field, former NAS Alameda and a naval telecommunications station in Hawaii — all Navy facilities identified by the EPA as Superfund sites — suffer from similar maladies.

Contamination at these sites not only threatens wildlife and local ecosystems; it also poses a danger to human health, as several of the chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens.

Even for those Navy facilities not listed on the NPL dangers still lurk. Former Naval Air Stations Agana, Bermuda and Bermuda Annex, Moffett Field and Joint Reserve Base New Orleans are just a few additional locations with polluted soils and degraded water quality.

Even NAS Oceana has been labeled as high priority for further assessment based on indications of contamination.

Navy brass have shown that they are adept at turning their facilities into Superfund sites. Given this record, how can we as citizens believe their claims that an OLF will be harmless? Decades of evidence shows that when a Navy facility is built in a community, human and environmental health will suffer.

Defending the lives of our sons, daughters, and grandchildren from yet another Navy dump must become our primary mission.