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Study finds high pollution levels at most U.S. bases in S. Korea

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Most U.S. military installations in South Korea have high levels of polluted soil, in some cases up to 100 times higher than the country’s environmental standard, according to a government study a newspaper made public this week.

The Ministry of Environment report — which the South Korean government has yet to release officially — was dated Oct. 4, 2005, according to Wednesday’s edition of the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, which said it obtained a copy of the report.

The ministry on Thursday declined to release the report or publicly discuss it without the agreement of U.S. Forces Korea, the top U.S. military command in Seoul.

USFK officials also declined to discuss the report.

“Return of U.S. bases is the subject of negotiations between [South Korea] and U.S. officials,” said David Oten, a USFK spokesman in Seoul. “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the specific issues being discussed while these negotiations are ongoing.”

The ministry’s report, according to Hankyoreh, said most of the U.S. installations are seriously contaminated by leakage of oil and heavy metals. It said levels of oil and lead were four times those permitted by South Korean environmental standards, the newspaper reported.

When South Korean environmental officials did soil tests, 14 of 15 U.S. installations showed levels of metal pollutants that were an average of four times the permissible level.

The officials were part of a South Korean-U.S. environmental survey team, USFK said.

Among installations tested were camps Page, Garry Owen, Stanton, Grieves, Howze, Giant, Edwards, and three ranges, Texas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina, the report said. The Army since has vacated the camps for eventual return to South Korea. The three ranges continue operating, a 2nd Infantry Division spokesman said.

According to the newspaper, the survey showed that soil contamination levels at Camp Page in Chuncheon stood at more than 100 times above the permissible level.

Samples from all eight installations tested for ground water pollution revealed toxins that exceeded permissible levels, the newspaper reported.

In 2005, ministry officials told the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor committee that 14 of 15 U.S. installations tested for soil or water pollution needed some measure of environmental clean-up.

“Camp Page in the city of Chuncheon tops the list for oil leakage pollution among those bases,” Kang Sung-min, chief aide to Korean National Assemblyman Kim Hyung-ju, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

The ministry’s soil tests were made in connection with the eventual hand-over of many U.S. military installations to the South Korean government. Under an agreement, the U.S. military is in the process of closing many installations, which are to be returned to the South Korean government by 2011.

It plans to shift the bulk of its forces to several remaining installations in two regional hubs, one in Pyeongtaek, the other in the Daegu-Busan area.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.


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