(NaturalNews) Any guesses who the U.S.'s largest polluter is? Would it surprise you to hear that it is the Defense Department? Probably not that surprising if you think it through. How about this, though. The Defense Department is currently resisting EPA orders to clean up Fort Meade and two other bases where they have allegedly dumped chemicals that pose "imminent and substantial" danger to both the public health and the environment.
The Pentagon is also refusing to sign agreements that cover twelve other military sites that are also on what is known as the Superfund list. This is a list of the most polluted locations in the U.S. Signing these contracts would provide a remediation plan, set schedules, and also allow the EPA to supervise the work and levy penalties if deadlines are missed.
This standoff between the Pentagon and the EPA has been growing during the Bush administration. The EPA has been left in a difficult position as it tries to address concerns about possible contaminants from military bases that are beginning to seep into drinking water and soil.
Because the Pentagon is the Pentagon, the EPA will not sue as it would a private polluter. At this time the Pentagon is refusing to recognize the EPA's authority. Law experts say the Pentagon's refusal to sign this final order is unprecedented.
"Final orders" are the EPA's strongest enforcement tool. If a polluter won't comply, the EPA will usually go to court to force compliance. Fines of up to $28,000 a day for each violation are also levied.
states that they are voluntarily cleaning up the sites that were named in the final orders. The sites are Fort Meade (Maryland), Tyndall Air Force Base (Florida), and McGuire Air Force Base (New Jersey).
Fort Meade is near a residential area and Tyndall and McGuire are located in less populated areas. All three sites are known to have released toxic chemicals (some carcinogens) into the soil and groundwater.
is not satisfied with the Pentagon's efforts to date.
The Superfund program was established in 1980. Its purpose was to clean up the U.S.'s most contaminated places. Of the 1,255 sites on the Superfund list, the Pentagon owns 129. There are other federal agencies that have properties on the list (NASA and the Energy Department) but they have signed the EPA
agreements with no protest.
In 1986 the law was amended to state that any government agencies on the Superfund list should not be treated any differently than private companies.
The Navy has been cooperative with clean up efforts and has signed the cleanup agreements for all of their Superfund sites. The Air Force, however, has not signed an agreement in 14 years.
The Superfund sites are only one of the Pentagon's problems, however. It has approximately 25,000 properties in every state of the U.S. that are contaminated. It will cost billions of dollars and take years and years to clean everything up. Obviously, the Pentagon
has a very big financial interest in how these sites are cleaned and also in which chemicals the government decides are toxic.
The Pentagon has been actively fighting the efforts of the EPA to set new standards for pollution for two toxic chemicals that are commonly found on military sites. These chemicals are perchlorate (contained in propellant for rockets and missiles) and trichloroethylene (TCE) (degreaser for metal parts).
TCE is the most common water contaminant in the U.S. It has seeped into aquifers in California, New York, Texas, and Florida. Over 1,000 military sites are known to be contaminated with TCE.
In the last decade, EPA scientists have determined that TCE is much more toxic that first believed. In 2001 the EPA created tougher drinking water standards for TCE designed to limit human exposure. The Pentagon challenged these standards and was successful in completely stopping this process from proceeding. Even now the EPA has not issued any new TCA limits.
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