July 16, 2008

South Korea Group Issues Report on Environmental Damage on US Army Bases

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

[Yonhap headline: "Report on Environmental Damage by USFK Issued"]

SEOUL, July 16 (Yonhap) - A report on environmental damage found over the past 10 years inside US military bases in South Korea was issued by civic organizations on Wednesday [16 July], with land contamination from oil being the most serious problem.

The Comprehensive Report on Environmental Damages in US Bases in Korea, the first of its kind, was released amid the US move to return tens of bases to South Korea as it aims relocate frontline US troops to a city south of Seoul by 2013.

The return of the land, however, sparked controversy over the environment, as many bases were seriously polluted by oil and toxic chemicals from their decades-long use, and decontamination is expected to be extremely costly and time-consuming.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) requires the US Forces Korea (USFK) to clean up contamination that poses a "known, imminent, and substantial endangerment to human health" before handing over land and facilities. SOFA is the highest-level guideline outlining the rights and responsibilities of some 28,500 US soldiers stationed here as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

In an auxiliary deal, the USFK agreed to remove underground storage tanks and air-conditioning chemicals, as well as lead and copper left at former firing ranges.

Environmental activists claim, however, that the USFK did not take appropriate measures for decontamination when they returned bases.

"We've made the report based on documents and on-site inspection over the past year. The report compiled all the environmental damage that took place inside US bases over the past decade," the Committee on Environmental Inspection of US Bases, organized by eight South Korean environmental organizations, said.

The report shows how serious the environmental problems are, including land and water contamination and noise, the committee said.

"Of all the environmental pollution accidents, 77 per cent were caused by oil leakage," the committee said.

The committee said it plans to send the report to the US Congress and the United Nations Environment Programme, as well as the Seoul government, in order to urge the US government to change environmental policies on overseas US bases.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 1206 16 Jul 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.