JRM: proposed ban on open burning, open detonation exposes Guam to health and safety risks
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Guam senators on Friday passed a bill that would ban open burning and open detonations on island, tuning out the Joint Region Marianas’ last-ditch plea for the legislature to reject the proposal.
The 36th Guam Legislature voted 13-2 in favor of Bill 360-36, introduced by Sen. Sabina Perez, who described open burning and open detonations as “one of the most harmful activities” that “threaten the overall well-being of the people of Guam."
Prior to the vote, Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, JRM’s commander, wrote to Perez, warning of the bill's consequences that “involve additional new risks to safety, health and the environment for both Department of Defense personnel and resources as well as to the broader community of Guam.”
“The OB/OD method is the only safe treatment method to render safe WWII UXO and potentially other munitions,” Nicholson said.
“If Bill 360-36 becomes law, I will instruct the DoD munitions commands and our Office of General Counsel to immediately advise me as to our operational status and options. If we are forced into a position where we have no disposal options, I am concerned with our ability to adequately respond in order to support the community,” he added.
In a statement after the bill's passage, Perez clarified that Nicholson's concerns regarding the disposal of WWII unexploded ordnances were addressed in the final version of Bill 360-36.
"Taking this into consideration, Bill 360 was subsequently amended to allow for an exception for WWII unexploded ordnances, until such time that our island is equipped with safer alternatives for disposal of these unexploded ordnances," Perez said.
"I thank the Rear Admiral for his interest in this legislation and look forward to more citizen-centered collaboration with Joint Region Marianas for the people of Guam," she added.
The senator said the bill's passage "brings us one step closer to protecting our island from the harmful effects of open burning and open detonation of hazardous waste while prioritizing public safety."
She noted that other U.S. jurisdictions already exercise safer alternatives to OB/OD.
"This bill codifies our people’s expectation that our children, man’åmko, and our veterans will be treated equal to our fellow Americans in the continent in line with existing USEPA guidelines. We await the governor’s support in signing this legislation into law," Perez said.
Nicholson said U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force explosive ordnance teams have responded to 388 unexploded ordnance incidents since 2020. Of the total number, he said 111 were found outside of DoD installations.
“These incidents were estimated to involve 3,198 pounds of net explosive weight predominantly in the form of World War II UXO. To put this in perspective, this net explosive weight is equivalent to over 7,200 sticks of dynamite,” Nicholson said.
“All WWII UXO was rendered safe by using the open detonation method of treatment. OD operations occur at two DoD sites in Guam: one at the Naval Munitions Annex in Santa Rita and the other in the Tarague basin on Andersen Air Force Base in Yigo,” he added.
Nicholson tried but failed to convince the legislature to collaborate with JRM prior to action on the bill, which is now headed to the governor’s desk.
"It is vitally important that our military and legislative bodies maintain open and honest communication when decisions are being made that will affect the environment," Nicholson said. "I encourage continued civil-military coordination to ensure the health and safety of the people of Guam."