By Lee Hyo-sik
The government has decided to conduct a ground check of 85 former U.S. military bases across the country from October to check whether soil and underground water there were contaminated with Agent Orange or other harmful chemicals.
The decision comes amid allegations that American soldiers buried hazardous materials inside the bases over the years.
The Ministry of National Defense said Friday that it will check all the bases that were returned to Korea between January 1990 and May 2003.
“We will secure a facility chart of all 85 former U.S. military camps by the end of this month and ask a professional organization to launch an environmental survey in October on behalf of the government,” Vice Defense Minister Lee Young-geol said.
Lee said the Korean government took the camps back without conducting any environmental studies on them, adding that one of them is Camp Mercer in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, which has been inspected by the provincial government for potential Agent Orange and other toxic chemical contamination.
The vice minister said that of 48 U.S. military bases, which have been returned since May 2003, 25 were found to have been contaminated with various pollutants.
“We launched a joint environmental assay into 25 bases with the U.S. military in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The investigation team did not find Agent Orange on any of the sites, and cleanup operations are in progress,” Lee said.
He noted that the defense ministry will soon conduct an investigation at Camp Page in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, following fresh allegations raised last week by some retired American soldiers that the defoliant was buried there. The base was turned over to the Korean government in 2005.
The government and the U.S. military are jointly conducting an on-site inspection inside Camp Carroll in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province, which was cited by retired soldiers as a base in which drums of Agent Orange were allegedly buried in the 1960s and 1970s, the vice minister said.
“Allegations over the burial of the defoliant at U.S. military bases have caused grave concern among the public. If proven true, it could pose a serious threat to public health. Given this, we will make all-out efforts to get to the bottom of the case by closely cooperating with the U.S. military authorities,” the vice minister said.
The allegations first surfaced early last month after Phoenix-based broadcaster KPHO reported that former U.S. soldiers stationed at Camp Carroll said they buried 250 drums of leftover Agent Orange in the camp compound in 1978.