Soil, Groundwater Near Old U.S. Bases Contaminated

      June 23, 2011 12:15

      The soil and groundwater near bases which the U.S. Forces Korea handed back to the Korean government in 2007 are contaminated by oil spills and hazardous heavy metals, according to a probe by the Environment Ministry.

      The volume of contaminated soil near 15 of the 16 U.S. bases under investigation amounts to 62,956 cubic meters, or the load of 5,351 20-ton dump trucks.

      Oil and toxic materials up to 64 times over the environmental standards were found in the groundwater at 28 of 61 separate areas where the agency took samples.

      Wide areas outside the bases are contaminated as a result of pollutants seeping from facilities like oil tanks into the soil and spreading from there, the government said.

      This was the first time a government investigation found environmental pollution in areas near U.S. bases. The probe was conducted under a special law enacted in 2006.

      According to a ministry report obtained by the Chosun Ilbo on Wednesday, the Korea Environment Corporation under the ministry assessed the soil and groundwater in areas near the 16 bases, including Camp Sears in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, in 2009 and 2010.

      KEC researchers assessed 61 underground springs after digging holes in the ground in areas within a radius of 100 m from the boundary of the bases. In 28 springs at 10 bases, they found traces that exceed environmental standards of hazardous chemicals like total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH), and carcinogens including cadmium, arsenic, lead, tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethene or PCE) and chrome 6.

      Soil contamination was also serious. Some 36,610 sq.m near 15 of the 16 bases were found to be contaminated with TPH and various kinds of volatile organic compounds.

      "The soil in the areas near 15 bases was contaminated as pollutants spread beneath the ground inside those bases first and then seeped out," a ministry official said. "The pollution in areas near Camp LaGuardia, Camp Sears, and Camp Page seems to have been caused by factors both inside and outside of those bases."

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