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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 13)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:11 December 13, 2019

Pollution in US bases
Washington should not avoid responsibility

The United States has returned four vacant military bases to South Korea on condition that the two sides continue consultations on how to share the cost for decontamination work there.

It is good news. The four bases ― Camps Eagle and Long, both in Wonju; Camp Market in Incheon; and the Shea Range at Camp Hovey in Dongducheon ― had remained closed for up to 10 years, posing a threat to the environment and the people's health. The bad news is that the U.S. is still showing no signs of accepting responsibility for the environmental damage caused by the bases.

The return of these bases had been delayed for years due mainly to differences between the allies over the clean-up costs. But it seems the U.S. decided to return them to address complaints over the possible spread of pollution and delays in municipal governments' redevelopment plans. Despite the U.S. refusal to pay, South Korea said it will begin the procedures needed to decontaminate the bases, which may take from two to four years and could cost a total of 110 billion won ($92 million). The South plans to pay for the clean-up operations first and then demand part of this from the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) if a compromise is reached between the two sides later.

According to the government, the U.S. has handed over 54 of 80 military bases nationwide that it earlier agreed to do so, but it did not share any of the clean-up expenses. Trillions of won have been and will be spent to clean up the bases. The U.S. claims there is no such precedent in any countries where its troops are deployed, including Germany and Japan. Previously, the U.S. Department of Defense said chemical compounds, such as perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, were released or a suspected discharge of them occurred at 401 former and current U.S. military bases, without naming them.

This is a sentimental issue to South Koreans. The U.S. has demanded more payment from the South for "defending it from North Korea," but is refusing to assume responsibility for contamination at its bases. This is absurd. The U.S. is reportedly demanding the South pay five times more for the USFK upkeep in the ongoing defense-cost sharing negotiations. The U.S. should no longer avoid responsibility for the contamination, and find ways to strengthen environmental management of the current ones in use.

Soil and groundwater pollution in the four recently returned sites is known to be serious. While the government has not disclosed the details of environmental research conducted between 2014 and 2016, oil and heavy metal pollutants in the areas are known to be above permissible levels. A study conducted on Camp Market in 2017 showed that the site was contaminated with dioxin, tetrachloroethylene, polychlorinated biphenyl and other pollutants.

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