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Pentagon Finds Contamination At 14 Bases

Jul 26, 2004 | AP

The Pentagon says it found contamination from a toxic chemical, perchlorate, at 14 abandoned or scheduled to be closed military bases nationwide. But a Democratic senator said Friday more facilities should have been examined.

In the report sent to lawmakers, the Pentagon said it found the chemical in ground water and soil samples at closed sites in 10 states.

Perchlorate, a toxic chemical from rocket fuel and weapons production, has been linked to thyroid damage.

The amounts found ranged from 1.2 parts per billion in ground water at Fort McClellan in Alabama, to as high as 2,890 parts per billion in some samples of ground water at Fort Wingate Depot in New Mexico.

There is debate about what constitutes dangerous levels of perchlorate, but the Environmental Protection Agency's draft proposal for drinking water is one part per billion. Some but not all drinking water supplies draw on ground water.

Perchlorate has been found in drinking water supplies in 29 states and has also been found in vegetables.

The eight-page report, issued in response to a congressional mandate, was more than two months overdue. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., released a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Friday saying it didn't meet congressional demands.

Feinstein said the report should have addressed 74 potentially contaminated closed bases - a number contained in a General Accounting Office report from 2003.

She also complained that the Pentagon shouldn't wait for the EPA to issue a final national standard for perchlorate to develop clean-up plans. The final standard isn't expected until 2006 and the report indicates clean-up at most bases will wait until then.

"This report makes clear that the Defense Department intends to continue to drag its feet until a federal standard for perchlorate is adopted, wasting precious time and exposing millions of Americans to the hazardous effects of perchlorate contamination of water supplies," Feinstein wrote. "This is an irresponsible and unacceptable approach to a serious problem."

A Pentagon official defended the report, contending that in some cases remediation wasn't needed because the amounts of perchlorate found weren't significant.

"We believe that our response to the congressional request for the report was responsive, and that the concerns that Sen. Feinstein has raised were really outside the request of the report," said Alex Beehler, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for the environment, safety and occupational health.

The 14 bases listed in the Pentagon report were:

Fort McClellan in Alabama; Fort Ord, El Toro Marine Corps Base, McClellan Air Force Base and Mather Air Force Base in California; Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado; Savanna Army Depot and Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois;

Jefferson Proving Ground in Indiana; Fort Wingate Depot in New Mexico; Umatilla Chemical Depot in Oregon; Red River Army Depot in Texas, which is open, but scheduled to be closed; Camp Bonneville in Washington; and White Oak Naval Special Warfare Group in Maryland.

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