6. Marine Food-Chains: Mercury

Prof: Today we’re going
to turn our attention to the problem of recognizing and
restoring hazardous sites. And you may think that this a
rather minor environmental issue compared to some of the others
that are more prominent in your thinking.
But uncovering the diversity of
sites that have been contaminated and our history of
success and failure of restoring them reveals that within the
private sector alone, there are some 300,000 sites
that have been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency
now as requiring restoration. Within the public sector,
if you look at only three organizations,
the Department of Energy, that we looked at last week,
formerly the Atomic Energy Commission,
the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior,
those three departments alone are responsible for 50,000 sites
that have been contaminated. Next week when we look at
agriculture, we’ll see that the repeated
application of biocides or pesticides to the same tract of
land for the purpose of protecting plants or killing
competitive species, that these applications are
leaving residues in the soil that under many conditions would
classify them, would justify classification to
also be hazardous sites. So the idea that simply because
they’re agricultural lands that they’re exempt from the
designation is quite interesting.
Especially thinking about land
conversion, how easy it is to convert
agricultural land to other kinds of more intense land uses that
explains a lot of the way that our rural areas have grown over
the past century. So today, we’re going to take a
look at lessons from the Defense Department.
And why the Defense Department?
Well, the Defense Department is
pretty interesting to me in that most people are paying most
attention to the problem of private site contamination.
Most of the stories that you
may have heard of, private sites might include
Love Canal in New York. But every state has its set of
private sites that are on a cleanup list.
And every state also has a
collection of public sites. So today we’re going to look at
the way that environmental law has evolved to identify and to
manage these sites, with a particular eye to what
do we do with them in the future?
What kinds of uses should we
allow? And that question often relies
upon a subordinate question, which is how risky should the
site remain? How clean should the site be
cleaned up? What standard of risk should be
applied? One statute that we’ll look at
will include the National Environmental Policy Act of
1969, really a vanguard statute that
was adopted really at the pinnacle of public concern about
loss of environmental quality, riding the beginning of the
wave of the environmental movement,
or the second wave really of the environmental movement in
the nation. The Endangered Species Act is
also relevant often to hazardous site management,
especially on federal lands. Why?
Because federal facilities are
often in fairly remote areas. And those areas often include
large amounts of acreage that provide habitat for a real
diverse set of species. The Clean Water Act,
also known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act,
is often at play in the identification of these sites
and their cleanup because the chemicals that were released run
off into surface waters. The Safe Drinking Water Act can
also apply, but we’ll address that later in
the course as we deal with agricultural chemicals,
as water is either taken from surface supplies and provided
for municipal or community facilities to distribute out for
consumption. But also, the contamination of
underground aquifers is extremely important,
and we’ll touch on that this week, particularly looking at a
case on Cape Cod in Massachusetts,
the Massachusetts military reservation.
The Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act, also known as RCRA,
R-C-R-A, is also at play, that really is a statute
designed to monitor chemical release and movement if it
classified as a hazardous chemical from cradle to grave.
That phrase,
“cradle to grave,” is important,
thinking that once you lose track anywhere in the cycle,
it’s going to be extremely hard to figure out how you might
identify which sites are contaminated and how you might
need to clean it up. The statute today that we’ll
concentrate most on will be the Comprehensive Environmental
Response Compensation and Liability Act,
also known as the Superfund law. And in this case also,
the case of Puerto Rico that we’ll look at today,
the Wilderness Act is also at play,
as well as the underlying authorizing statute for the
creation of fish and wildlife refuges.
Now why would that be?
Well, it’s a quirk in federal
environmental law that many former highly contaminated
facilities by the Defense Department especially,
have been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Fish and
Wildlife Service. They become the holders and the
managers of these facilities, in part because they tend to be
biologically diverse. But also, for other reasons.
So let’s just pause for a
minute and take a look at CERCLA,
Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and
Liability Act, passed in 1980 and then amended
in 1986. It contains certain principles,
including the polluter pays principle,
the idea that those parties that were responsible should be
identified and they should be held accountable for the costs
of cleanup. So this statute was designed to
clean up hazardous waste sites and to respond to hazardous
spills. And it includes mechanisms to
clean up abandoned sites or sites owned by bankrupt parties.
So in many cases,
you find these old factories that have simply moved on.
The corporations have dissolved
or they’ve become bankrupt, so who’s going to clean them
up? Well, the Environmental
Protection Agency had a fund that was created by CERCLA that
was generated by a tax on major polluting industries.
So the power industry,
the coal industry, the oil industry chipped in to
create this trust fund that was then used to pay for clean up in
cases where the responsible parties could not be identified.
So first of all,
the sites have to be identified.
Second of all,
an investigation takes place in which the government is really
the detective trying to figure out who did what when and how
serious it was. So this statute also includes a
provision for what is known as joint and several liability,
which means that any one responsible party can be held
liable for the entire amount of the cleanup.
So if you contributed only five
percent of the hazardous chemicals to a site,
then you could still be held accountable for all cleanup
costs. But then again,
it would put the onus on the known responsible party to track
down who else contributed the other ninety-five percent.
So it shifts the burden of the
detective work to the known responsible party.
The statute created something
known as a national priorities list.
So you can imagine if we’re
facing 300,000 private sector sites,
50,000 known public sector sites under the jurisdiction of
only three agencies, how in the world are we going
to figure out which ones we need to concentrate on?
Well, this statute decided that
it was going to create a list. And I think of this as a
listing statute, meaning that nothing gets
attention unless it gets put on a list.
And by the way,
this is very similar to the Safe Drinking Water Act in that
a chemical will not get any attention,
it won’t be monitored by anybody unless it gets on the
Safe Drinking Water list of contaminates,
and there are only ninety-three chemicals on that list.
And the Endangered Species Act
is also a listing statute in a sense, so the species has to be
listed. So in any case where you are
identifying a problem and you are putting it on a list,
you’re going to have a lot of political resistance to the
addition to the list because it means that someone is going to
have to change their behavior, either to pay for restoration
or in the case of endangered species,
to be sure that they use the landscape in a way that does not
harm the potential viability, reproductive success,
of the species in question. So these listing statutes,
Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act,
in this case, the CERCLA NPL list,
National Priorities List. They operate via the same
mechanism. There’s always a fight about
whether or not the problem gets listed.
There’s always a fight over
which other responsible parties should be pulled into establish
accountability. And basically,
the lists themselves contain far, far fewer problems than are
actually out there. Right now, there are about
3,000 potential national priority list sites.
And EPA is looking at about 200
more that are likely to be listed.
And there are 1,200,
roughly, on the list. And among those,
since the statute was enacted, only 773 have been restored.
And you need to think about the
word restored very carefully, because it implies that the
site was tested after the effort was made to clean it up and
whatever residual chemicals remained posed an acceptable
level of risk. So the idea that the
contaminants could still be on the site, they could still be in
the water, but they pose an acceptable level of risk.
This is an important concept
and it’s a highly debatable concept that is often defined by
both subjective and quantitative metrics.
So seventy percent of listed
sites are being restored by the original polluters,
meaning that the responsible parties were identifiable.
And the remaining thirty
percent account for roughly fifty percent of the federal
funds. Right now, because the trust
fund that was derived from the tax on industry had gone dry,
it went dry in 1995, and Congress never restored
that fund. So now the costs have been
shifted to the taxpayers in the General Fund.
So EPA’s cost recovery right
now ranges year to year between about 100 and $400 million.
About 2,000 Defense Department
facilities are exceptionally contaminated.
And among these,
there are certain types of facilities,
including the training facilities where different
branches of the military would convene to carry out exercises
in preparation for warfare, particularly those that used
live ordinance. Ordinance means munitions or
ammunition. So that about 750 training
facilities exist in the nation. And they cover an area which is
quite strikingly large, about 15 million acres.
So Connecticut is about 6
million acres in size or maybe actually 3 million acres in
size, to give you a sense of the
scale of area that is under the jurisdiction of the Defense
Department, where there is very,
very little doubt about the extent of cleanup that’s
necessary. On these sites,
it’s expected to cost more than $20 billion to clean them up.
And restoration is not expected
for about seventy years. Basically, it’s being
constrained predominately by funding.
So for any of these sites,
in this case we’ll be looking at the Defense Department and
particularly the Navy as the responsible party,
there are serious problems of historical reconstruction that
are compounded particularly by the authority of the Defense
Department to maintain classified information.
So they don’t have to tell us
what chemicals they used, what chemicals they released.
They don’t have to tell us the
details of the military ordinance that were dropped or
buried. So that they can claim that it
would compromise national security objectives if this
information were released. So it’s often very difficult to
find it out. How certain is the evidence?
What’s the standard of proof
that’s necessary? Does the site itself justify
environmental restoration? Does it justify individual
compensation for people that live near it or worked on it?
Say, people that worked on
firing ranges or people that conducted exercises?
The GIs that would storm the
beaches under live fire? So are they eligible for
compensation? What’s the value of property
that’s lost or jobs that were lost in an area?
So oftentimes,
when these facilities are located, they create a boom in
the economy, in the local economy.
For example,
when the Roosevelt Roads Facility was created in Puerto
Rico, by the year 2000 it was
generating about $300 million a year in revenue for the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Base Realignment and
Closure Statute that was passed by Congress in 1990,
designed to really take a careful look and see whether or
not it really made sense for us to continue having all of these
training facilities, all the bases that are
sprinkled around the world, began a process of closing
these bases down, realigning military activities,
concentrating them at a time when the electronic nature of
warfare had evolved to the point where weapons guidance and
weapons delivery often made the practicing of firing live
ammunition really unnecessary. The precision of the guidance
systems really diminished the need for certain kinds of
training and the release of certain chemicals.
So the upshot was in this case
that the Roosevelt Roads Base was closed in Puerto Rico and
like that, $300 million was taken out of the economy.
So there was a property value
loss also associated with these facilities being recognized to
pose a nuisance in different forms,
not just in terms of chemical release to the environment,
but also in terms of contaminating groundwater or
adjacent agricultural lands or the effect of noise.
If any of you have ever lived
next to an Army base or an airport, you know that the
planes taking off and landing create quite a nuisance.
And in this case,
I got a call from a gentlemen in Puerto Rico who told me that
he was at a training site just yesterday afternoon.
He was at a training site and
he had worked there for the year between 1968 and 1969 on
Vieques. And for often twelve,
fifteen hours a day, planes would fly over the site
and bomb it. And as far as five,
six miles away, buildings would shake.
He said his Quonset hut,
where his job was to prepare food for Marines who were
training on the island, the Quonset hut would shake,
the cans would shake, and it’s quite disturbing.
So there was a psychological
effect there. So where should the burden of
proof of causation lie? Who should own the knowledge of
hazards that are found on the island?
Should this be public or
private information? Many of these questions are
similar to the questions that we asked relative to the nuclear
weapons case. What level of environmental
restoration should be required and how should national security
interests be balanced against environmental quality or human
health interests over the long run?
Now, also, you have to
recognize that the United States has been in the business of
training troops for its entire history so that imposition of
dozens of environmental laws between 1969 and the present,
on that pattern of behavior is quite interesting to follow.
How do you think the Defense
Department would react to a new Clean Air Act that might
restrict their dropping of bombs that of course cause air
pollution? When you drop a bomb,
what happens? On the surface you get an
explosion. You get movement of the dust
and whatever is on the ground, the plants, the rocks,
the water, into the atmosphere. And just like the strontium-90
story, it goes someplace. So trying to figure out where
it goes and how to manage that in a way that protects these
additional values of environmental quality and human
health that the Defense Department really never had to
worry about. So from their perspective,
the concerns of the environment and health are getting in the
way of their pursuit of their mission.
So under situations like that,
you might wonder, well what would they do?
How would that affect their
behavior? What would it do to their
willingness to disclose what they’ve done in the past or to
take part in surveillance to figure out what happened to the
chemicals that were released? Well, it’s going to make them
not very happy about it and not want to spend a whole lot of
money on detecting problems that they are going to have to deal
with. Basically, the process of
environmental monitoring and health surveillance would create
serious problems for them, just as the Atomic Energy
Commission realized back in the 1950s and 1960s,
the effect being that monitoring and surveillance
often are diminished, making historical
reconstruction a really difficult process to follow.
So that’s all with just an
introduction to one case. And in my career,
I’ve worked on a variety of military sites sprinkled around
U.S. territories and thought about
the relative contamination among the sites.
And this site is particularly
interesting, because it lies off the east coast of Puerto Rico,
it’s biologically enormously rich.
It has some of the most diverse
cluster of coral species in the U.S.
It also has a variety of
different endangered species that are terrestrial and marine.
So that thinking about the way
that these laws apply to this site may help you understand
some of the problems we face in restoration.
I want to actually have you
think about what this island was like back in 1939,
when the military decided that they were going to create it.
They were actually exploring
different bases in the Atlantic and they waited until Pearl
Harbor, when the Japanese bombed and routed the U.S.
Navy and many ships,
many lives were lost in 1941. And they realized that
concentration of their troops and their facilities,
their ships in one area was extremely dangerous,
so that they decided they wanted to have an Atlantic Basin
counterpart to Pearl Harbor. They decided on the eastern
coast of Puerto Rico, which you can see here is the
Roosevelt Roads at the head of the arrow,
which was the core of the base, Vieques and Culebra Island.
So the Roosevelt Roads Station
is a fairly large point that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean
and was highly suitable for birthing aircraft carriers and
destroyers. And Vieques became an island,
a repository, for a variety of different
weapons systems. And they built perhaps 200
different Wal-Mart size bunkers into the side of the mountains
and the hillsides and stored just about every imaginable kind
of weapon. At last count,
the last the Defense Department released the information,
more than 200 different kinds of munitions ranging from land
mines to 500-pound bombs to 2,000-pound bombs that are about
as long as this stage is wide and perhaps about that wide in
diameter, were stored there as well as
nuclear weapons. It was one of the largest
nuclear weapons repositories in the nation during the period of
the Cold War, leading up to the site’s
closure in 2003. So the process of land
acquisition is also interesting, because it raises legal
questions that are also constitutional.
And you can imagine that this
island was owned predominately by several sugar plantations so
that 23,000 acres of land was purchased by the Defense
Department. And although the land itself
was owned by only four parties, they had fee simple to the
land, it also was the home to several thousand workers who
basically lived an agrarian lifestyle.
They were allowed to live on
the land. They had no fee,
right, they had no legal title to the land.
Bu they had built their houses
and sometimes they had three, five, eight acres of land.
And they planted their own
vegetable gardens, they grazed their cows or their
pigs or their sheep. They had chickens.
And they would take their
horses down to the coast and they would fish.
So they were extremely poor,
making often less than fifty, sixty dollars a year per
person. And all of a sudden,
the military decided they were going to take over this base.
And these families were told
that they had to leave their land.
They had to leave their houses,
often with only a twenty-four or a forty-eight hour notice and
with very minor compensation for loss of their facilities.
Each family was given a tag.
They were given a tag with a
number on it. And they were put on the back
of a military truck and taken to the center part of the island
that is called in this shot the civilian sector.
And they were told they should
go out into the field and find their new property that had a
stake in the ground with a matching number on their ticket.
So one of the leaders of the
military resistance told me the story that is also in the book
Green Intelligence that I commend to you,
what it was like to be put out into a field and to sleep
through tropical downpours with literally no shelter.
So moving from an area that had
roads, that had water supply,
that had sewage facilities to one that had none of those
institutional facilities was quite wrenching for the society.
So I wondered what it was like
back in 1938, 1940, before the Navy got
there, wondering if we could establish a baseline on this
site to figure out what had happened to it,
how the ecology might have changed as a way of thinking
about what the landscape might be restored to.
And the area of restoration
ecology, those of you that study this,
know that it’s quite interesting and it’s quite
perplexing in trying to figure out what exactly it is that is
your restoration goal. Do you want to restore the
species diversity, the soil quality,
the air quality as it was back in 1940,
or do you want to try to bring it back to 1900?
So that what your target is,
is difficult. So I was fortunate enough to
obtain a complete set of air photos at a very high resolution
that you can’t see from this shot.
But if you wanted to,
you could go onto a website that I put together with the map
librarian. Abe Parrish,
here, worked with me for a period of two years collecting
all of the imagery of the island over a period of between 1940
and 2008. So that now we have this really
rich ability to overlay all the air photographs,
all of the satellite imagery, and all of the data files that
are called geographic information system overlays on
top of one another as a way of thinking about the ecology of
the island, how water moves,
how biological diversity has changed,
and what at least the visible influence of the military might
have been. We were also lucky enough that
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had
put together a GIS system for underwater,
for the underwater areas as well.
And then we found that the
Defense Department had mapped with great precision the ocean
bottom, predominately so that they
could navigate among the coral reefs using vessels subsurface,
and also so that they could figure out trajectories for
firing torpedoes from submarines,
or rather, projectiles. So that the quality of the data
for this island is just, it’s spectacular for anybody
that is interested in doing additional research that might
want to historically reconstruct what was there or what happened
to the environment. In this site and on the eastern
part of the island that became the focus of the training
activities– could I get the lights dimmed a
little bit in the back? Actually, just on the podium
here. If you look very carefully,
you can see here is the Caribbean coastline,
the north side of the island, which is only a mile of
landscape, is the Atlantic Ocean.
But it’s very low in elevation,
so you can see a lagoon stretching in this direction,
another lagoon over here, and a third over here,
and a fourth over there. So it’s a very low-lying area.
So what’s really quite striking
is thinking about how, when they were choosing this
site as a bombing range, they were not thinking at all
about chemical movement or chemical fate.
So what would happen if you
dropped bombs on this area? What would happen if you lobbed
artillery shells onto it? Where would they go?
So these questions were not
even close to their thinking. The island also,
this is a shot looking back at the Western end of the island,
where the weapons storage bunkers are.
And they originally had thought
that they would join the island to the mainland of Puerto Rico
using this long pier. Here’s another shot of the
beaches along the island. Really spectacular beaches on
the south side that are clean. They’re not chemically damaged.
But occasionally,
as you dive in these coves or in the bays,
you’ll see wreckage of a plane that was downed or old
unexploded bombs that are lying beneath the surface.
So here’s just an example of
the kind of comparative analysis that you could do over time,
kind of wondering how the landscape changed from 1939 over
here to 1970 to 1985 and into the 1990s,
where you can see up in the top here a runway.
You can see different areas
where the vegetation has been restricted and either bombed
out. And this shot is a little bit
higher in resolution. And you could see that there is
a little star here, which is a surface-to-air
missile site that became a target,
and ships would launch their missiles from offshore.
Actually, historically,
the closer to the present you find the ships would park
further and further offshore as the electronic guidance systems
became better. And more and more,
the weapons would actually reach the mainland.
The military argued quite
vehemently that the nation should accept the ordinance that
missed the island. It was a training ground.
People make errors,
and that’s the idea, is to help the pilots and help
the Navy and the Marines become more precise in their effort to
reach the targets. They set tanks up on hillsides.
They also set tanks and
aircraft along runways to become targets.
So this was not a minor
intensity of target practice and training.
I’m going to jump ahead here
for a minute. One example back from 1950
taken out of the New York Times demonstrates that there were
80,000 servicemen that converged on the island in March.
It was a group that consisted
of the Army, the Air Force,
the Navy, the Marines from the United States,
but also from Great Britain, from other allied nations.
So that allies would get
together and try to coordinate land assaults,
air assaults, and subsurface assaults using
live weapons. They stopped using the adjacent
island, Culebra, and they concentrated
additional efforts on Vieques, which further contaminated the
island, beginning in 1971.
One other point I wanted to
make about this is that if the public is trying to figure out
and rebuild an image of what it was like and also to understand
what the government did, it’s extremely difficult,
because the military, the Defense Department,
will restrict access. Their first response to a
request for access would be, “Well, you know,
it really is too dangerous. You can’t go on this site
because there are unexploded weapons and we are the only ones
that are trained to identify those and basically to figure
out what the chemical risk is. So you basically need to trust
us.” They would work with their own
consulting firms. In fact, the same consulting
firms tend to work at the same kinds of sites around the
nation. And they would basically
provide reports to people that would be unverifiable.
So the level of accountability
on a site like this is quite low.
The fence that you see here is
really symbolic of a limit of public access.
How much weaponry was dropped
on the island? Well, this was a basic
question, and we still don’t have a really good answer.
We do know that about 200
different types of weapons were released onto the island.
And during the period between
1983 and 1998 the Defense Department admitted that about
80 million pounds of ordinance had been dropped on Vieques.
So that if you extrapolate
roughly over time and correlate it with their disclosure of
number of troops and types of exercises that were conducted,
conservatively you could estimate that 150 million pounds
of bombs and munitions were dropped.
Destroyers would sit offshore
and they would lob these artillery shells onto the
island. Here is the USS Saratoga
sitting off of Vieques practicing, softening up the
island is the phrase that they use.
And this would be followed
shortly thereafter by troops that would launch amphibious
vehicles from the holds of large transport ships that would crawl
up onto the beach and release the troops that would then storm
across the island firing machine guns at each other,
at troops that invaded the island on its opposite side.
So what’s in these weapons?
What was released?
What we do know is that napalm
was released. And if you have not heard of
napalm, it’s a horrific weapon. It’s basically gasoline in gel
form so that when it’s dropped, it will ignite and burn
anything that is near it. Agent Orange is another
chemical. It’s a combination of two
herbicides that became infamous during the Vietnam War.
Transport planes would fly over
Vietnam and they would drop Agent Orange,
which is 2,4-D, an herbicide,
and 2,5-T. And the combination would
defoliate thousands of square miles of tropical forest in both
North and South Vietnam. Agent Orange was also used on
this island. Also chaff.
And chaff is interesting in
that chaff is designed to jam radar.
So chaff is a very small
thread, it’s a filament of maybe several millimeters in
thickness. And it formerly was wound with
a lead wire. And the lead would basically
reflect radar. So that there were many
instances where the San Juan, Puerto Rico weather stations
would be reporting thunderstorms over Vieques when in fact,
it was simply a misread of their radar that was bouncing
off of the lead chaff that would be dropped from these bundles
out of the cargo bays over the island.
So lead chaff would eventually
just kind of rain down onto the landscape.
So tens of thousands of tons of
lead chaff would be dropped during aerial Air Force training
exercises in an attempt to disarm and disorient.
So as one example of the
intensity of the attacks, during 1978,
about 1,500 hours of air-to-ground bombing occurred,
100,000 missiles were fired onto the island,
1,000 hours of ship-to-shore bombing.
So in one single year,
5 million pounds of ordinance. Give you one quick view of an
amphibious craft going up over the beach.
This is a small craft.
The larger craft could
transport fifty to a hundred troops in their hold.
And they’d go up over the
beaches, raising really interesting questions about the
application of the Endangered Species Act.
Now, the military argued that
the marine amphibious training is much more important than
worrying about the endangered species,
that included the manatees and pelicans,
the hawksbill, the green, and the loggerhead
turtle. And the turtles were very
interesting in this history in that it’s long been a site for
turtles to crawl up onto the beach and dig holes into the
sand right at the base of the dunes.
And the holes that they would
dig would be between eighteen inches and maybe thirty-six
inches in depth. And they’d lay their eggs in
those holes and then they’d crawl off back to the ocean.
It’s pretty remarkable the way
that they come back to the same island, year after year.
And between six and about
twenty-four weeks later, the eggs hatch,
the little turtles crawl up to the surface and they wander down
to the water’s edge and swim away.
Really quite remarkable.
These three species of turtle,
the hawksbill, the green, and the loggerhead,
are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
At the same time the military
was landing their craft on the beach,
troops would get out, people would be assigned to dig
holes, bury landmines or bury
munitions in the beach. And in one case,
a former Marine told me that yes,
they had buried munitions in the beach and they really didn’t
have time to pick them up on the way out because they were late
for their next assignment. So they left the munitions
buried beneath the beach. Some of these were detected in
2004, when the Fish and Wildlife
Service took over the area and demanded that the most sensitive
screening of the beaches occur before they would be opened up
to the public. One other interesting
association between the case of nuclear testing and this case,
that was purely coincidental, was this history of the USS
Killen. Commissioned in 1944,
it saw action in the Pacific in World War II,
particularly in the Philippines.
And it was eventually part of
the Operation Hardtack, including an Operation Wahoo
and Umbrella in the Marshall Islands,
in the Enewetak Atoll in 1958, where it was one of those ships
that were pulled together and being tested for its resilience.
Well, as I mentioned with the
case of ships being sprayed by water and that didn’t take the
radiation out of the ship, then being dragged back to
Hunter’s Point in San Francisco for sand blasting.
They didn’t really know what to
do with all the ships. And this one happened to be
dragged by barge all the way across the Pacific to the Panama
Canal, through the Panama Canal up
into the Caribbean Basin and then anchored off of the shore
of Vieques for target practice. So sitting about three-quarters
of a mile off of the shoreline. So right now,
you can see the military base in the background and that same
missile site I referred to earlier,
and the USS Killen is buried right here.
It really is quite striking.
I’ve taken some students down
to this site. And diving beneath it,
you see the hull of the ship. You see bombs scattered around
it. You see many old barrels too.
And the military has not
released what the content of the barrels is.
But it’s a bit worrisome
knowing that the sand that is now in it came from the Marshall
Islands area. But also, it’s quite striking
that the biological diversity in the region is enormous.
So there was one gun turret
that my students and I looked into where a barracuda popped
his head out of the gun turret. Tiger sharks that are sleeping
on the bottom of the broken up hull, parrotfish,
angelfish, just really alive with different marine species.
It was quite interesting to
hear the arguments on the part of the military and other people
that are trying to figure out what to do with especially
metallic wastes. And many who have that problem
are quite anxious just to go out and use the oceans as their
dump. And they can demonstrate pretty
well that if they build a reef out of an old ship or old cars,
that it will serve as a pretty effective habitat for a wide
range of marine species. Now this is an interesting
example. Looking off the coast,
several people wondered, including a colleague of mine,
Jim Porter, who is at the University of Georgia.
Jim is an ecologist who was
trained here at Yale. And he’s been working on
Vieques as well for a number of years.
And the Navy tried to explain
these circles beneath the surface of the water as being
created by hurricanes, rather than being created by
bombs that had been dropped creating these craters in the
ocean floor. So their argument was holes in
the Viequen coral reef are caused by hurricanes.
Well, you know,
it’s really quite apparent that this is not the case.
You see similarly sized holes
that are in the landscape. But also Jim went out and
constructed a robot that would wander through these areas that
had live ordinance, lying either within them or
next to them. And he would take samples from
inside the craters and then from various distances outside the
crater. I think I have a shot of this.
Yes, and he actually mapped out
the distribution of some heavy metals that clearly demonstrated
that these were not caused by hurricanes.
The Navy also claimed that
higher levels of lead in the soil or other metals were the
cause of dust storms that blew over from Africa so that the
island does experience dust storms during certain parts of
the year. In fact, aircraft navigation is
interrupted. But they attempted to confuse
their contribution, with natural contribution to
the level of chemical residue on the island.
Here’s one shot looking at the
old barrels inside the rusting hulk of the Killen,
and with extremely healthy coral reefs growing right
nearby. An example of napalm being
dropped on the island and what that looks like.
Also, the United States leased
out bombing rights, and think about the idea of
potentially responsible parties here.
If the United States leased out
bombing rights to NATO countries and other allies,
does that infer that they are similarly responsible for
restoration costs? So Canada, Germany,
France, Britain, Chile, and Argentina all
participated on several occasions in coming to the
island and joining with the training exercises.
There was a website that the
military had up for a good part of the late 1990s.
And they proclaimed that this
was a great site for one-stop shopping so that companies,
U.S. companies, multinational
companies, including Raytheon, General Electric,
Lockheed Martin, would supply and sell diverse
weapon systems on Vieques. And it was advertised quite
heavily and it had many attractions.
These are quotes,
that it was a “suitable area for over the beach and
aerial troop movement,” “live fire capability for
most nonconventional weapons,”
“simultaneous conduct of gunnery missile firing..”
I don’t even know what ATG
ordinance delivery is. “Amphibious small arms
mining and underwater operations.”
“Missile firing
operations: air-to-air, air-to-surface,
surface-to-air, and surface-to-surface.”
So that by the middle of the
1990s, the United States was securing
about $85 million per year in payments from other nations to
gain the right to try these weapons.
So the representatives from
Raytheon and these other corporations would meet the Navy
or the Air Force from other nations and ask them if they
would like to try out different kinds of weapon systems.
And this further increased the
intensity of exercises. Here’s a shot of the weapons
storage bunkers that I mentioned, that were designed to
basically maintain storage. These were really interestingly
designed. They were built into the
hillside, and then they were planted over the top with green
roofs. You wouldn’t think that the
Defense Department might have been the first designer of a
green roof. But in this case,
back in the 1940s and 1950s, they were building green roofs
basically to provide cover so that satellites from the Soviet
Union or other nations would be fooled into thinking that these
were just small grazing plots so that they would lease these
lands out to local farmers to graze cattle or goats on the top
of these concrete structures that housed weapons of all
sorts. The intensity of fire produced
an extraordinary mess. And if you look at the surface
now of some of these craters, you see that they tend to fill
up with water. And you need to imagine what
happens when a bomb explodes on the land and it creates a
crater. It will break itself up into
literally billions of microscopic pieces.
Pieces of what?
Pieces of lead,
mercury, cadmium, aluminum, different kinds of
explosives, including RDX, HDX, TNT would be more familiar
to you. But it basically impregnates
these chemicals into the side of the crater.
Tropical storms come along and
they will dump six, eight, ten inches of rain.
On one occasion,
I was there after Storm Jean hit the island in 2004.
And in a matter of about
forty-eight hours, nearly two feet of rain had
dropped on the island, creating those low-lying areas,
those lagoons that I had pointed out earlier in the
lecture. Basically creating a massive
lake in the region. So here’s an example of the
edge of one of these craters. And you can see the vegetation
growing quite well, once you get up out of the–
above the water table area. And that is in part a function
of the fact that bombs often contain a fairly high level of
nitrogen and phosphorus. So in 2003, when the Base
Relocation Commission Closed the site down and they stopped
exploding the vegetation, it really has come back in full
bloom. And many different species are
now quite abundant. And they’re growing in these
thickets, basically making it almost impossible to see what
the ordinance would be on the surface.
So it’s more dangerous than it
ever was before. I was standing with a
representative from the House overlooking the site one day.
And he was exclaiming how it
was coming back, how the site was restoring
itself because it appeared to be so green and lush because of
this effect of the fertilizers that were in the bombs.
And I turned to him and I shook
my head and said, “No, you completely
misunderstand. It’s not restoring itself.
The bombs are still beneath the
surface, beneath the vegetation, and it needs to be cleaned
up.” If you dive beneath the
surface, you can see weapons such as this 2,000-pound bomb
being measured by Dr. Porter. And he’s also measured the
leakage of the chemicals and the explosives from the bomb into
the environment and demonstrated that the coral–
the coral are very important and excellent historical records
of the chemical diversity of the area and how it’s shifted over
time. So as the coral grows,
you could test different depths from the surface,
and you can come up with a chemical matrix that will give
you some idea of what’s happened.
Give you a sense as well of
what the site looks like after the bombs are dropped.
The vegetation is literally
obliterated. And today it looks quite
different than this. So I’ll pause there and we’ll
come back and take a look at several statutes on Thursday
that are particularly relevant. Thank you.

Glenn Chapman

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