U.S. AG asked to probe PCB mess

Posted on Aug 07 2000

Greenpeace and Tanapag residents have pressed the U.S. Attorney General to investigate into the alleged gross negligence and violation of federal laws by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 in connection with the sloppy cleanup of a polychlorinated biphenyl-contaminated village.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Greenpeace Pacific representative Dr. Arlene Griffen said the people of Saipan have been exposed to PCB tainted soils for over a decade due to the negligence of the U.S. government.

Greenpeace has also asked the U.S. Secretary of Defense to order a complete cleanup of the sites and immediate evacuation of the residents from the community.

A copy of the results of the preliminary investigation conducted by the CNMI’s Attorney General’s Office was sent to the U.S. Attorney General which described in detail violations of policies and federal laws committed by the Army Corps and the U.S. EPA.

The investigation, headed by Assistant Attorney General Murphy Peterson, indicated that the Army Corps may have committed perjury when the agency claimed that it had cleaned up areas which are still contaminated with PCBs.

Since 1992, the two federal agencies were aware that the groundwater in Tanapag have high levels of PCB concentrations, 18 times the federal drinking standard, according to the AGO report.

“Given the recent progress made in the mainland U.S. at hundreds of Superfund toxic waste cleanups, it is deplorable to see the U.S. government’s lack of action and insensitivity to the suffering of the people in its territories such as the Mariana Islands. This inhumane negligence also raises serious questions of environmental justice and exposes the U.S. government to charges of environmental racism,” said Dr. Griffen.

Greenpeace and Tanapag residents staged Friday a one-hour demonstration in front of Horiguchi building where the U.S. Attorney’s Office is located. They declared the U.S. government a “toxic criminal” for using the Pacific a dumping ground for its poisons.

The villagers have expressed concern about reports of groundwater contamination and current plans by the Army Corps to clean up Cemetery No. 2 scheduled to begin this month.

“We want an efficient cleanup implemented and we want an assurance that they will do it right this time,” said Mike Evangelista, a village resident.

Maureen Penjueli, Greenpeace Pacific toxics campaigner, said the demonstration was aimed at reminding nearby residents about the dangers of the contamination. She noted that it took the U.S. military over 12 years to address the PCB contamination in the village which would have been illegal and unacceptable in mainland USA.

“Yet the same double standard exists in other parts of the world such as the Philippines, Guam and Japan, where communities are still living with PCB contamination of military origin,” Ms. Penjueli said.

PCB contamination in the village began in 1960s when an unknown quantity of electrical capacitors containing 100 percent PCB oil were shipped to Saipan. Unaware that these were highly toxic chemicals, the local people used them as barriers, roadblocks, barbecue sites and headstones at the cemetery.

Since then, the community has seen an increase in cases of people with cancer, leukemia, chromosomal abnormalities and reproductive disorders.

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