Guam bans open burning, phases out open detonation
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Open burning and open detonation operations are now officially prohibited on Guam, thus restricting the military’s toxic waste disposal options under a new measure that lapsed into law Wednesday without the governor’s signature.
“The groundbreaking legislation now brings our island a step closer to phasing in safer, cleaner alternatives for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste,” said Sen. Sabina Perez, author of Bill 139-36, which is now Public Law 36-139.
The Department of Defense uses open burning and open detonation, or OB/OD, to destroy waste military munitions that are damaged, expired, or in excess inventory when there are no viable resource recovery, recycling or contained disposal options.
Guam is among the 20 U.S. jurisdictions that host 34 sites with open burning and open detonation permits. Of the 34 sites, five are government-owned, contractor-operated sites, according to the Inspector General’s November 2021 report.
While noting the lingering threats posed by unexploded WWII ordnances around the island, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero expressed reservations about the bill.
The original version of the bill sought a total ban on the military’s OB/OD activities and importation of hazardous waste.
The final version relaxed the restrictions to allow open detonation of WWII UXOs “under certain conditions and allow the import of hazardous waste into Guam,” but it retained the ban on open burning.
“Although Bill 360-36 contains necessary changes in several areas, the bill will lapse into law without my signature due to pending concerns (raised) by federal agencies regarding their ability to execute Bill 360-36, such as implementing available safe alternative technologies to treating OD,” the governor said.
“Our administration will work with the Guam legislature to ensure these concerns are resolved while preserving the intent of the bill,” she added.
Perez, on the other hand, stood pat on her bill, which she described as “a vital, proactive measure” to protect the health of Guam residents as well as the island’s air, water and land resources from “irreparable toxic pollution.”
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She said modern science considers open burning and open detonation of hazardous waste “crude and outdated resulting in staggering environmental cleanup costs.”
By restricting these activities, she said, “we are ensuring our people and environment have similar protections as our counterpart jurisdictions in the states already exercising safer alternatives.”
Skipping the OB/OD ban would continue to expose Guam to “unmitigated toxic releases of carcinogens, lead, per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the ‘forever chemical,’ and other toxic substances,” Perez said.
“While cancer rates rise on Guam they are falling in the U.S., and it is critical that we take this step to protect our families and future generations, especially given the recognitions afforded by the PACT Act,” she added.