By Pacific Island Times
Chief Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Wednesday threw out the lawsuit filed by environmentalists who sought to block the U.S. Air Force's plan to detonate 35,000 lbs. of bombs and burn other hazardous waste munitions each year in the open air on Tarague Beach.
Following a court hearing, Tydingco-Gatewood ruled in favor of the U.S. Air Force and deferred the matter to the Guam Environmental Protection Agency.
The lawsuit, filed in June by Prutehi Litekyan/Save Ritidian along with Earthjustice, accused the Air Force of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate the cultural and environmental impact of open burning and open detonation.
The proposed open burning operations would involve putting hazardous waste munitions in a large metal container that is open to the air, pouring diesel on top, and then lighting the munitions on fire.
Open detonation operations would consist of blowing up bombs, rockets, and other hazardous waste munitions directly on the bare sand.
Open burning and open detonating of munitions releases both toxic chemicals—such as RDX, HMX, TNT, perchlorate, and dioxins/furans—and unexploded ordnance directly to the surrounding land, air, and ocean.
At Wednesday's hearing, the plaintiffs argued that although Guam EPA has the ability to deny the permit sought by the Air Force, the fact that the Air Force filed to renew their permit, constitutes noncompliance with EPA.
“Both the U.S. Air Force’s intention to renew their OB/OD permit and the district court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit were rendered despite recent trends across the country that have deemed OB/OD a very harmful practice,” Sen. Sabina Perez said.
“For instance, the PACT Act, recently signed into law by President Biden, points to the need to end the outdated practice of open burn/open detonation, which is based on ‘dirty technology.’ There are much safer alternatives implemented in several communities in the U.S. that comply with USEPA environmental standards and DOD’s rigorous safety review.”
Perez said long- and short-term exposures to the harmful emissions from OB/OD are known to lead to heart attacks, asthma attacks, and premature death.
The open burn/open detonation pit on Guam is sited in the north near our sole source aquifer that supplies over 80 percent of the island’s population with drinking water. It is also adjacent to the island’s two most populated villages of Yigo and Dededo.
“I am grateful to Prutehi Litekyan/Save Ritidian, Earthjustice, and the many community groups that are protectors of our people and environment,” Perez said. “When we heal the land, we heal the people. In turn, when we heal the people, we heal the land.”