U.S. military: No Agent Orange at South Korea base
SEOUL — Environmental reports released Thursday by the U.S. military show hazardous chemicals that were stored at Camp Carroll since at least the early 1960s were often haphazardly stored and disposed of, but the U.S. military says it has yet to find any evidence of Agent Orange contamination at the base.
The reports, a 1992 land use survey of the base and a 2004 site investigation of two heavily polluted areas within Camp Carroll, were released to the public as part of the U.S. military’s efforts at transparency during an investigation into whether Agent Orange was buried at Carroll in 1978.
According to the 1992 report, a number of hazardous materials, including solvents, pesticides, herbicides and petroleum products, had at that point been used and stored at Carroll for more than 30 years and had contributed to groundwater contamination. Storage and disposal of materials had been haphazard, with a number of spills and leaks reported, including leakages of diesel fuel and the improper disposal of battery acids into a drain. Proper disposal methods for solvents had not been enforced, the report said.
There is no evidence, however, that Agent Orange was among those chemicals.
Since May, the military has been investigating whether Agent Orange was buried at the camp, prompted by the claims of three former soldiers who told a Phoenix television station that they buried hundreds of drums of the toxin. The chemical was used widely during the Vietnam War, and is believed to cause birth defects and a number of diseases.
The 1992 land use survey -- conducted by a California company -- also reported that farmers had filed legal claims for skin rashes and damaged crops “resulting from alleged spills that originated from Camp Carroll operations.” The report did not specify whether the claims had been filed against the South Korean or U.S. government, or when they had been made.
Portions of the documents that indicated the chemicals were removed from Camp Carroll in 1979 and 1980 had been previously cited by military officials. However, the documents did not specify if Agent Orange was among those chemicals removed during the clean-up.
The survey also shows that contamination from two solvents – trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene – led to the shutting down and treatment of contaminated wells at the base, Col. Joseph Birchmeier, a U.S. Forces Korea engineer, said Thursday at a press conference at Camp Carroll.
He said water samples have also been taken from 22 wells on Camp Carroll, and the results of those tests, as well as ground-penetrating radar and magnetometer surveys would be released at an unspecified date.
He also said that a joint U.S.-South Korean team investigating the Agent Orange allegations had conducted interviews with 26 people in both countries who knew of the burial and recovery of drums at Carroll.
Thursday’s release of the reports comes one week after the investigation committee said that trace amounts of dioxin had been found in three streams outside the base, though the amounts were too small to be hazardous to human health.
Dioxin is a component of Agent Orange, though it is found in other industrial sources. The 2004 report noted that the widespread practice of burning waste in South Korea and pesticide usage may have increased dioxin levels in the area.
The report noted continued contamination at Carroll, and recommended further testing of the groundwater and soil, but no remedial action at that time.
An official with the prime minister’s office said Thursday that no studies had been done among the population living around Camp Carroll to see if there were increased rates of birth defects or diseases associated with Agent Orange. He said such studies could be conducted after the joint investigation is concluded, if South Korean officials determine they are needed.
Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.