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Congress Must Rescue Atolls from Toxic Waste

EDITORIAL: The Honolulu Advertiser - Tuesday - May 23, 2000

It is not the fault of the U.S. military establishment, it turns out, that makes it necessary to store toxic waste on Wake Island.

It's a "Catch 22" in American law that creates the problem.

The Department of Defense, faced with a shipment of 110 tons of PCB-contaminated waste accumulated from U.S. military installations in Japan, found that a 1997 court ruling bans the waste-disposal industry on the Mainland from accepting waste from overseas.

So the Pentagon studied its limited options, which included Johnston Atoll and Wake Island, and has chosen to store the shipment at Wake. This storage is temporary, for "up to a year," although no one can say where it will go next.

We understand that the storage conditions on Wake are as safe as practicable, but we reiterate that low-lying atolls are fundamentally a terrible place for such storage.

What clearly is needed is relief from Congress. It must either authorize the waste from the U.S. military overseas to be returned to the Mainland for disposal, or create a program to help host countries develop their own disposal facilities.

The waste is primarily the U.S. military's responsibility, although the host countries obviously have benefited from the U.S. presence. Japan in particular will soon need disposal facilities for its own domestic waste problems.


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