The Proliferation of Government Environmental Negligence: At Home and Abroad

In researching ideas for our latest editorial, a pattern became increasingly clear that we wanted to address. If you recall two weeks ago, we published an editorial on the water contamination in Flint, Michigan and its connection to base contamination at bases such as Camp Lejeune. In that editorial, we focused on accountability, or lack thereof, in our government agencies. Regardless, these agencies are responsible for contamination and for the lack of post-service treatment of citizens serving and working at those bases.

In addition to a general lack of accountability in this matter, there is also another glaring and growing component – negligence. When looking at all events across the spectrum, whether it’s the lead in the water in Flint, toxic water and soil contamination at Camp Lejeune, groundwater contamination at Pease AFB, or PFCs at McGuire, the pattern of negligence is astounding. In many, if not all cases, the military and other government agencies involved knew about the problem long before the public ever learned of it.

In the case of Camp Lejeune, it has been proven through release of various records and memos that Department of the Navy (DON) and United States Marine Corps (USMC) officials knew about the contamination from 30 October 1980 – 1 April 1988. Instead of taking immediate actions to address the situation for health safety of all citizens aboard the base, tests and re-tests were conducted, errors were made, information was ignored and PR efforts were deployed to minimize, downplay and deflect the issue for almost 8 years, despite best efforts by some news outlets trying to expose the problem during that same period.

Care to go back in time and have a look for yourself? Check out some of the statements made in this September, 1985 article about Camp Lejeune water contamination (reprinted from the News & Observer) in an archived edition which we uncovered from NCCoast.org. See page 12 of the file.

You can also view the page image here.

Later, in a 2004 USMC report to the base commandant on the matter, officials continued to downplay the contamination in an effort to create confusion and doubt regarding the significance. What’s laughable at best, and one of the most coldly apathetic lines I’ve ever read to date on the issue, is the following line found on page 42 of that report:

“The lack of quick and aggressive response to initial chemical interferences, later determined to be VOCs, in some drinking water samples was unfortunate.”

(See: Drinking Water Fact-Finding Panel for Camp Lejeune – Report to the Commandant United States Marine Corps October 6, 20014)

“Unfortunate.”

That’s right. Their “lack of quick and aggressive response” that could have mitigated the impact of cancer-stricken or dead servicemen, civilian workers, and spouses is considered “unfortunate”.

Did that make you angry? Let’s just read that again from yet another important angle for emphasis. In other words, the USMC’s negligence in dealing immediately with the contamination that resulted in scores of dead babies at Camp Lejeune is simply considered to be “unfortunate”.

UNFORTUNATE???!!!

Take a deep breath. Like me, I know you need it, too.

By the way, if you’re bored and wish to read 100+ more pages of spin, which the USMC names a “Fact-Finding Panel” report, enjoy the link noted above.

Such negligence and apathy on the part of officials, along with deliberate misrepresentation of official knowledge to the public, is not isolated to Lejeune. As we’ve learned from recent investigative news reports, emails have been uncovered documenting that both Michigan state officials and Flint city officials knew of the water problems in the city long before the public found out (See: Michigan emails show officials knew of Flint water disease risk). This directly includes Governor Rick Snyder’s principal assistant, Harvey Hollins, who is documented to have known of the presence of Legionnaires’ Disease in the water supply. Specifically, an email from March 13, 2015 shows that:

“Hollins and Dan Wyant, the former head of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), were aware of the increase in Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, where Flint is located, and that a county health official was attributing the cases to the Flint River.”

Even the state workers received water over a year prior to the general public receiving knowledge of the contamination! (See: State Workers in Flint Got Clean Water Over a Year Ago).

“According to documents obtained by Progress Michigan, state employees in Flint were provided coolers filled with bottled water in January of 2015 as concerns continued to grow about the quality of the water there.”

Perhaps next we’ll see one of those Flint officials chug some of the water on TV, much like the PR stunt that Gov. Hickenlooper used in Colorado. Remember the Animas River incident?

 

Civilian Exposure Toxic Military - Mural
Mural depicting toxic contamination left behind by US military in the Philippines.

 

Of course, this is just the domestic evidence of negligence. Let’s turn to the international spread of negligence in our government. Even as far back as 1999, the DOD has admittedly taken their toxic roadshow global.

“The Pentagon’s own Inspector General documented, in a 1999 report, pollution at U.S. bases in Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Greenland, Iceland, Italy, Panama, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey.”

(See: The U.S. Military’s War on the Earth)

Adding to the historical negligence exhibited by the DOD at domestic bases (over 150 Superfund Sites currently listed on the EPA Superfund Site list today), there seems to be little interest in learning from past mistakes. Reports of military contamination continue to surface not only around the country, but also around the globe. In recent weeks, more contamination has been documented in reports out of Okinawa, Japan. The contamination sites include Camp Kinser and Camp Hansen.

“Camp Kinser was a key storage site for retrograde chemicals from the Vietnam War. Those included were ‘insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides, inorganic and organic acids, alkalis, inorganic salts, organic solvents and vapor degreasers.’”

(See: Pentagon withholding information on Okinawa contamination, report says)

Just like the examples of Lejeune and Flint, government officials are slow to release information regarding the base in Okinawa. Yet, information continues to trickle out. Not only are areas of the base contaminated, but new reports suggest that the base contamination extends into the Okinawa water supply itself.

“Last month, Okinawa authorities announced that high levels of Perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) — an ingredient found in many fire extinguishing agents — had been discovered in waterways near the Kadena base. The area supplies drinking water to seven municipalities, including the prefectural capital, Naha. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes PFOS as an “emerging contaminant” that is readily absorbed by oral ingestion, accumulating in the blood, kidneys and liver. It does not break down easily in the environment or the human body, where it has a half-life of up to nine years.”

And, like Lejeune and Flint, the paper trail reveals original intent to ignore the problem:

“Emails also show that base officials believed rainfall would dilute the agent, and because the incident occurred at night it was ‘highly unlikely to draw any public notice because the foam would disipate (sic) before morning.’ According to the correspondence, there had been four previous spills of the same foam, some of which also went unreported.”

(See: Documents indicate chemical leaks at U.S. base have polluted Okinawa water supply)

If that’s not enough, check out the latest issue revealed in a Stars and Stripes article just this week:

“A recent environmental survey of the Tokorozawa Communications Site, which relays ground-to-air and ship-to-shore communications for U.S. Forces Japan, found lead contamination in the soil.”

Of course, the Air Force claims it “found out about the contamination in 2014 after agreeing to return the land to the city of Tokorozawa.” According to the base spokesman, “the contamination’s cause is unknown.” (See: Japan agrees to cleanup of lead contamination at US communications site)

Sound familiar? I’m sure they also consider this incident as ‘unfortunate’.

Still wondering why people of all parties and backgrounds are angry this election season?

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Civilian Exposure

Civilian Exposure is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization/public charity working to Build Awareness, Accountability and Assistance for Civilians Exposed to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination and all citizens exposed to any toxic contamination aboard all U.S. military installations. The effort continues to inform civilian employees and others affected by contamination to receive both the guidance and the justice they deserve.

About the Founder
A 20-year veteran of media, marketing, non-profits and entrepreneurship, Gavin P. Smith leads Civilian Exposure, a non-profit assisting civilians and veterans exposed to U.S. military contamination; the Keta Foundation, a collaborative foundation dedicated to mitigating modern slavery through economic improvement projects in Africa; and Gavin Consulting, a network of virtual experts serving global clients; He is also a former member of the CDC/ATSDR Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel. Mr. Smith holds a Master of Global Management with distinction (Beta Gamma Sigma) from Thunderbird School of Global Management, an MBA from The College of William & Mary Mason School of Business and a BA in History from Wake Forest University.

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