Civic group activists launch a protest against the U.S. military that buried harmful substances in Camp Carroll in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1978, near the U.S. Embassy in central Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap
By Lee Tae-hoon
The Eighth U.S. Army based in Korea acknowledged Monday that it had buried harmful chemical substances that included dioxin at Camp Carroll in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province.
However, it said that the dumped materials may not be the hundreds of barrels of Agent Orange the media reported were disposed of there in 1978.
“Since being made aware of these allegations we have been conducting a comprehensive review of our records and reports,” Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commanding general of the Eighth U.S. Army, said.
“While we are not sure that what we’ve found directly correlates to the claims made in the media, we have discovered information about materials buried at Camp Carroll in 1978.”
The U.S. general said he discovered a 1992 study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which indicates that a large number of drums containing chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and solvents were buried in the vicinity of the area identified by former soldiers in news reports.
U.S. Forces Korea has been investigating the case following a news report by Phoenix-based broadcaster KPHO, in which former U.S. soldiers stationed at Camp Carroll said that they buried 250 drums of leftover Agent Orange in the camp compound in the late 1970s.
Agent Orange contains dioxin, which is notorious for causing serious health problems, including mental illness, cancer and fetal deformities to those who are exposed to it.
The U.S. military used the toxic defoliant to clear jungles in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.
According to the public affairs office of the Eighth U.S. Army, the 1992 study stated that these materials and up to 60 tons of soil were subsequently removed from the site in 1979 and 1980 and disposed of offsite.
“Eighth Army officials are still trying to determine why the materials were buried and how it was disposed of after it was excavated,” the office said without elaborating where the unearthed chemicals were relocated.
It noted that it conducted a testing in 2004 by boring 13 test holes on and around the site and using ground-penetrating radar.
Samples from 12 of the holes had no dioxin present, but the 13th hole revealed trace amounts.
“The 13th hole revealed trace amounts of the chemical (dioxin), but the amount was deemed to be no hazard to human health,” the U.S. Army said.
Johnson underlined that the investigation was far from complete and he will work with Korean government officials to confirm whether the location identified in the news reports is the same as the one cited in the U.S. Corps of Engineers studies.
“While we are definitely making some progress, we still have much to do,” he said. “I ask both Koreans and Americans to have patience while we continue this joint assessment.”
He said he will place top priority on ensuring the continued health and safety of soldiers, the investigation team and the Korean public.
미군, 유독물질 매립 인정해
미8군 사령관 존 디. 존슨 중장 은 1978년 화학물질과 살충제, 제초제, 솔벤트용액이 담긴 많은 양의 드럼통을 칠곡 캠프 캐롤내 매몰했다는 기록을 1992년 미 육군 공병단 연구보고서에서 발견됐다고 23일 밝혔다.
하지만 그는 “우리가 발견한 기록과 언론에서 보도된 주장이 일치하는지는 알 수 없다"면서 수백 드럼통의 고엽제가 매립되었다 알려진 지역과 공병단의 보고서에서 나온 지역이 똑같은지를 확인하는 것이 필요하다 밝혔다.
존슨 사령관은 “이번 주장이 제기된 이후부터 우리는 기록들과 보고서에 대한 포괄적인 조사를 진행했고 우리가 발견한 기록과 언론에서 보도된 주장이 일치하는지는 알 수 없지만, 우리는 캠프 캐롤에서 1978년에 특정 물질이 매몰되었다는 기록을 찾아냈다.” 라고 말했다.
미8군사령부는 또한 이날 보도자료를 통해 고엽제 매립 의혹 지역에 대해 2004년 13개의 시추공과 지하투과레이더를 사용해 조사한 결과 1개 시추공에서 맹독성 발암물질인 다이옥신 소량이 검출됐다고 밝혔다.
그러나 나머지 12개의 시추공에서는 다이옥신이 검출되지 않았으며 검출된 다이옥신도 건강에 해를 끼치지 않을 정도의 미량이었다고 미8군 측은 설명했다.
다이옥신은 미군이 1960년대 베트남전에서 광범위하게 살포한 ‘에이전트 오렌지’라는 고엽제에 들어있는 화학성분으로 독성이 청산가리의 1만배에 달하며 각종 암과 신경제 질환을 유발하는 것으로 알려져 있다.