The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Honolulu District has confirmed that over 1,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil have so far been removed from I-Denni/Edoni on Capital Hill. This exceeds the original estimate of only up to 600 cubic yards as part of the ongoing environmental cleanup up at the formerly used defense site.
Joseph Bonfiglio, chief of public affairs at Army Corps-Honolulu, said that “224 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil and over 800 cubic yards of lead-contaminated soil” have been extracted to date. PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyls, a cancer-causing chemical.
“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the public and our workers,” Bonfiglio said in an email response to Saipan Tribune questions.
He said in order to ensure the public’s safety, the Army Corps is “proactively working with local officials to ensure that the PCB-contaminated soil from this location on Saipan is safely transported off island to an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]-approved site on the mainland.”
Bonfiglio also said the Army Corps has budgeted $603,543.73 for this cleanup.
Because the cleanup is still ongoing and the volume of contaminated soil removed has exceeded original estimate, the actual cost is also expected to go up.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) separately said that the Army Corps has allocated $936,000 for CNMI cleanups in fiscal year 2012, including the one in I-Denni, which was contaminated by military activity during and after World War II.
“I worked to obtain this robust funding for the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, which evaluates and cleans the FUD sites. As the [fiscal year 2013] appropriations process begins, I will continue to seek funding to rid our islands of this contamination once and for all,” Sablan said.
On May 13, 2011, Sablan asked the U.S. House Appropriations Committee to provide funding to clean up the CNMI of environmental contamination. At the time, Sablan said there are 11 outstanding cleanup sites in the CNMI that require environmental remediation.
“The fiscal year 2010 estimated cost to complete remediation in the CNMI alone is estimated at $347.8 million,” Sablan told the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. Of that amount, nearly $1 million was appropriated to the CNMI in the current fiscal year.
Besides I-Denni, there are nine other formerly used defense sites, or FUDS, on Saipan that require remediation, Sablan said. These include the Hospital Dump Site, American Memorial Park, Naftan Bomb Storage, Ordnance Plan, Naftan Ordnance Disposal, North Field, Marpi Point Field, Tanapag Fuel Farm, and Koblerville Naval Supply Center.
Meanwhile, it’s still unknown how much in total contaminated soil will be removed from I-Denni as remediation is still ongoing.
“Even though we go into a project with work plans, when we’re actually on the ground doing the work, we have to adjust our efforts to address actual conditions on the ground and clean up the contamination wherever we find it on site. Since everything is being done to the highest standards of safety, this takes some time. We will have final numbers which we can share once the work is completed,” Army Corps’ Bonfiglio said.
Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) said yesterday that given the larger extent of the contamination compared to what was originally estimated, the Army Corps should “make sure that groundwater is not contaminated and won’t harm people using water from nearby wells and pumps.”
“They have to dig deeper and measure the extent of the soil contamination and water contamination including the Agak pump,” he said.
Off to Nevada
Bonfiglio said the Army Corps will ship the PCB-contaminated soil to an EPA-permitted facility called US Ecology, in Beatty, Nevada for proper disposal.
“The Corps has already started shipping PCB-contaminated soil out of Saipan and this action is ongoing,” he added.
A large number of jumbo white sacks containing PCB-tainted soil were seen near the extraction site-a pit that the U.S. military used as a waste repository in the 1940s.
The Army Corps expects the I-Denni cleanup to cost much less than the $20 million it spent cleaning up Tanapag of PCB contamination. The PCB cleanup was completed in 2003 involving 40,000 tons of PCB-tainted soil.
“This is a different kind of project so the funding is different. We expect that this will be less than Tanapag since we are actually shipping the PCB contaminated soil off island to an EPA-permitted facility,” Bonfiglio said.
Public Lands Secretary Oscar M. Babauta said once the I-Denni area is completely cleaned up, the area will be turned into a homestead subdivision.
The 1.4-acre site lies approximately in the center of a 7.43-acre undeveloped parcel owned by the Department of Public Lands. This parcel is surrounded by residential dwellings, a boat repair facility, and dense jungle vegetation.