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Wake Island Unsuitable for Storage of PCBs

May 12, 2000 - Editorial, Honolulu Advertiser Honolulu, Hawaii

What is it about the Defense Department that makes it want to store hazardous waste on low-lying atolls?

No matter how you slice it and no matter which atoll you choose -- and no matter which atoll you choose -- it’s a terrible idea.

The Defense Logistics Agency had been talking about storing nearly 110 tons of toxic waste material containing PCBs on Johnston Atoll, a national wildlife refuge 700 miles southwest of Honolulu.

"Out of sight, out of mind" is perhaps what these folks were thinking, in addition to the fact the Army is already using the island for a facility that destroys chemical weapons. Perhaps they presumed Johnston wouldn’t have much of a constituency, outside of tropic birds, that would object to dumping hazardous waste there.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which overseas the island, weighed in against the idea, as did this newspaper.

Now the Defense Logistics folks, in their wisdom, have decided to dump the stuff on Wake Island instead. That’s Wake Island, maximum elevation 12 feet, just as the hurricane season begins. It doesn’t matter whether storm waves wash the PCBs from Johnston or Wake. It’s the same ocean that will be contaminated. The Fish and Wildlife Service objects to that choice, too, and so do we.

The agency says it intends the storage on Wake to be temporary, but it doesn’t say how long that will be or where the waste will go next.

Obviously it doesn’t know where it will go next -- otherwise, it would go there instead of Wake Island. So it will sit at Wake until something changes or we forget about it.

Wrong, wrong. The hazardous waste belongs to the U.S. Army, which has accumulated it over the years at its bases in Japan. Japan has no appropriate disposal facilities.

The Army has already shipped it to Vancouver and Seattle, where it was unable to offload it. It’s back in Japan.

There are appropriate disposal sites on the U.S. Mainland, and it’s the Army’s job to find a way to transport the materials safely there from Japan. If that requires an act of Congress, so be it.

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