The Department of Defense and its contractors are currently using at least 61 active military sites across the country to “burn and detonate unused munitions and raw explosives in the open air with no environmental emissions controls,” according to a series of bombshell reports from ProPublica that give insight into the largest source of pollution in the country: The Pentagon.
One of those sites is located at an army ammunition plant in Radford, Virginia. The town consists of around 17,000 people, and it is home to an elementary school that “has been ranked by researchers as facing some of the most dangerous air-quality hazards in the country.”
The rate of thyroid diseases in three of the surrounding counties is among the highest in the state, provoking town residents to worry that emissions from the Radford plant could be to blame. Government authorities have never studied whether Radford’s air pollution could be making people sick, but some of their hypothetical models estimate that the local population faces health risks exponentially greater than people in the rest of the region.Congress banned American industries from using “open burns” to dispose of hazardous waste in 1984, with the land disposal restrictions program for the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency was instructed to specify “either concentration levels or methods of treatment for hazardous constituents to meet before land disposal.”
However, ProPublica noted that lawmakers granted the Pentagon and its contractors “a temporary reprieve from those rules to give engineers time to address the unique aspects of destroying explosive military waste. That exemption has remained in place ever since.”
In the United States, outdoor burning and detonation is still the military’s leading method for dealing with munitions and the associated hazardous waste. It has remained so despite a U.S. Senate resolution a quarter of a century ago that ordered the Department of Defense to halt the practice ‘as soon as possible.’ It has continued in the face of a growing consensus among Pentagon officials and scientists that similar burn pits at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan sickened soldiers.As The Free Thought Project reported in February 2016, a former U.S. Marine and Army sergeant detailed the horrific conditions U.S. soldiers faced in Iraq and Afghanistan in a book titled, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers. The book highlighted the constant streams of toxic smoke from the burning of waste, which created lifelong health issues for both soldiers and local civilians.
While the current number of active military sites using operations similar to “burn pits” stands at 61, there are records of nearly 200 sites in the U.S. that have a history of burning hazardous explosives in the open air.
ProPublica noted that facilities such as the one in Radford—which burns raw explosives in bonfire-like piles—operate using special government permits “that are supposed to keep the process safe, limiting the release of toxins to levels well below what the government thinks can make people sick.”
However, even the EPA officials who govern the process “acknowledge that the permits provide scant protection.”
In addition to directly affecting the health of residents by polluting the air, the explosive residue from these burn sites is also affecting local residents by poisoning their drinking water.
In Huntsville, Alabama, officials began monitoring the drinking water after they found that the level of perchlorate in the soil was 7,000 times higher than safety limits, and in Grand Island, Nebraska, underground drinking water supplies were affected after explosive residues spread more than 20 miles from the site at the ammunition plant.
The important thing to remember is that according to the United States government, everything they are doing is legal—they have just found loopholes in order to justify any actions that would be considered “illegal” if they were committed by anyone else.
This is another reminder that just because something is “legal,” does not mean it is right, and that—as hundreds of thousands of Americans are experiencing firsthand—the U.S. government does not have the best interest of its citizens in mind, and it is not above poisoning them, in order to fuel the fire that sustains the U.S. war machine.
Rachel Blevins is a Texas-based journalist who aspires to break the left/right paradigm in media and politics by pursuing truth and questioning existing narratives. This article first appeared at The Free Thought Project.