Comments sought on ‘no action’ plan for WWII-era hospital dump in Talafofo
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is inviting the public to comment on its proposal not to do anything—called a “no action” plan—to remediate any contamination at a World War II-era hospital dump site in Talafofo, Saipan.
The public has until July 20, 2021, to submit comments on the “no action” proposed plan for the Hospital Dump Site hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste project in Talafofo. The USACE cites a previous study that states that there is “no unacceptable risk to human health or the environment” at the site, hence the “no action” proposal.
The area is what’s called a formerly used defense sites, or FUDS, property subject to environmental restoration, as mandated by Section 211 of the Superfund Amendment and Restoration Act of 1986. The project site is located in Kingfisher Golf Links, on a portion of a property used as a U.S. Navy hospital during World War II.
The site in Talafofo was a surgical hospital, which had an x-ray department; a dental clinic; and eye, ear, nose, and throat clinic, and a laboratory. It had grown into a 2,000-bed facility by June 1945 but the Army deactivated it five months later, in November that year. By late 1960s, the hospital has already been demolished. No records of disposal activities are available.
Several investigations had been performed at the site as early as 1992. The USACE later inspected the site for soil contamination, with the report completed in 2011. According to the report, heavy metals—arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, and silver—exceeded the Pacific Basin environmental screening levels, and were then referred to as “contaminants of potential concern.” It also included, “to a lesser extent,” total petroleum hydrocarbons as diesel-range and residual-range organics.
In October 2020, the USACE completed its Remedial Investigation report, a follow-up to identify if the heavy metals identified in the 2011 report pose an “unacceptable risk” to humans and the environment. Soil samples were also collected to verify that remaining TPH concentrations in soil do not exceed the Tropical Pacific Environmental Screening Levels.
Except for arsenic, metals in the site soil (barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, and silver) did not exceed the TPESL level. The RI report stated that for arsenic, “the 95% upper confidence limit was less than the site-specific background value.”
Based on the sampling done, it was concluded that the metals in the soil do not pose an “unacceptable risk” to human health, and that “potential risk to ecological receptors from exposure to the metals reduced to an acceptable level.”
Last June 10, the USACE presented its findings and recommendations at a public meeting held at the Hyatt Regency Saipan in Garapan, attended by both Precinct 4 Reps. Joel Camacho and Sheila Babauta. The Talafofo hospital dump site project is in Precinct 4.
At the meeting, Babauta said there should be more effort to reach the communities—particularly the people who farm and live in sites that could potentially harm families and crops. Comments from the community also included a call to be transparent when it comes to testing, and if other information were considered besides just the TPESL There also was an interest to consider doing fish tissue and biota studies in the nearshore environment to check hazardous levels, given that heavy metals bioaccumulate in living organisms.
The USACE presented its recommendation of a “No Action for chemical contamination in site soil” since, according to the report, while there are metals and petroleum contamination in soil at the site, they do not pose an “unacceptable risk.”
The community is encouraged to review the seven-page Proposed Plan (with details on the RI) available at the Administrative Record File at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library in Susupe, and provide comments to the USACE via email at FUDS-POH@usace.army.mil until July 20, 2021.
The proposed plan states that if after consideration of public comments, the “No Action” recommendation is ultimately selected, there will be no additional investigation or remediation on the site, and the project will be closed.