Andersen AAFB's open burn pit for toxic waste raises health concerns
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Guam Environmental Protection Agency (GEPA) must require Anderson Air Force Base (AAFB) to provide an environmental impact statement before allowing the military to continue the operations of an open burn/open detonation unit for treating hazardous waste, including ammunition and explosives, Sen. Sabina Flores Perez said.
“This facility has been in existence since October 30, 1980. However, data on the matter remains vague and the general public has little to no knowledge of its existence or impact," Perez said.
The senator wrote to GEPA, commenting on AAFB's application for a draft Resource and Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) permit to authorize the continued operation of the open burn facility.
"Our community has a right to know of the toxic releases, and an EIS will give our community insight to the overall damage these toxins have had and to move towards creating a healthy environment that sustains us all," Perez said.
The draft RCRA permit states that ‘the nature of OB/OD HW treatment on the EOD range does not provide for procedures to minimize releases to the atmosphere.’
“This is unacceptable and unconscionable to our community, given the known health impacts and considering cancer is one of the leading causes of death on our island," Perez said.
"The proximity of open burn/open detonation pits to one of our prime fishing grounds and farmlands and the migration of aerosolized hazardous chemicals to areas distant from the site carried by wind or water can be a means of toxic exposure to our island community,” Perez said.
Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites. In 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs created a Burn Pit Registry to keep track of veterans exposed to the smoke from those burn pits.
The VA says the toxins in burn pit smoke can affect those exposed to it. The effects will show in the skin, eyes, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs.
The VA said those who were exposed to burn pit smoke many times, were in closer proximity to burn pits, or were exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk for health problems.
Perez noted that there are nationwide calls to close open burn pits due to alarming rates of health and environmental concerns connected to these sites and the existence of viable alternatives to dispose of energetic wastes.
In light of these threats, Perez urged GEPA to consider the grave urgency of remediation versus continued use and contamination of the environment.
"Any closure and post-closure plans must be stringent enough using the precautionary principle to ensure the site is cleaned up sufficiently," Perez said.