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(LEAD) S. Korea investigates fresh claim of chemical dumping by USFK

All Headlines 14:01 May 25, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS South Korean official's quotes in paras 4-6, American veteran's claim in last three paras; AMENDS dateline)

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, May 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry said Wednesday it has launched an on-site inspection into a former U.S. military base in the South where American troops allegedly dumped large amounts of chemicals in the 1960s.

The investigation followed a new allegation raised by an American veteran, retired Master Sgt. Ray Bows, who revealed that U.S. troops buried "hundreds of gallons" of chemicals at Camp Mercer in Bucheon, west of the South's capital of Seoul, between 1963 and 1964.

The ministry said it sent a team of officials and environmental experts to the former U.S. military base, which was returned to South Korea in 1993 and is used as a base for Korean engineering troops.

"The team plans to review environmental data of the base and check areas where chemicals were suspected of being buried," said Kim Jung-chul, head of the ministry's Military installation Planning Bureau.

"If they detect any signs of pollutant contamination on the soil, we will immediately dig into the area," Kim told reporters.

So far, the ministry has found no military records that support the new allegations at the former U.S. military base, Kim said.

The fresh allegation escalated public anxiety in South Korea over possible environmental contamination at U.S. bases after claims from American veterans who say they buried the toxic herbicide Agent Orange at Camp Carroll in Chilgok, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, in the 1970s.

Bows, who said he was stationed with the 547th Engineering Corps at Camp Mercer from July 1963 to April 1964, made the new claim on a Web site for former U.S. troops stationed in the South, named the "Korean War Project."

"We dug a pit with a bulldozer -- donned rubber suits and gas masks and dumped every imaginable chemical -- hundreds of gallons if not more -- into the ground on a knoll behind the second storage warehouse on the right," Bows wrote on the Web site.

Bows didn't specify what sorts of chemical materials were dumped and how the alleged dumping site had been managed since then.

USFK officials were not immediately available for comment on South Korea's fresh investigation.

Bows also claimed that a chemical depot at Camp Mercer moved to Camp Carroll in 1964.

South Korean and U.S. officials are jointly investigating another claim by three American veterans who said they buried "250 drums" of the toxic chemical Agent Orange at Camp Carroll in the 1970s.

Agent Orange, a powerful toxic herbicide that was widely used in the Vietnam War, is suspected of causing serious health problems including cancer and genetic damage after exposure among some people as well as birth defects in their children. The defoliant was contaminated by dioxin, a highly toxic substance.

The U.S. military is widely known to have sprayed Agent Orange south of the Demilitarized Zone in the late 1960s to help better detect North Korean infiltrations into the South.

Another American veteran named Larry Anderson also wrote on the Web site of the "Korean War Project" that USFK ordered its troops to remove all of its dioxin herbicides in 1978.

"One order I had received was to remove all remaining supplies of dioxin," wrote Anderson, who said he served at the headquarters of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division between 1977 and 1978.

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