EVST 255: Environmental Politics and Law
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Environmental Politics and Law
EVST 255 - Lecture 6 - Marine Food-Chains: Mercury
Chapter 1. Recognizing and Restoring Hazardous Sites [00:00:00]
Professor John Wargo: 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.
Chapter 2. The Problems of Historical Reconstruction at Vieques [00:12:25]
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. territories. 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.
Chapter 3. Vieques Prior to U.S. Military Takeover [00:19:31]
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.
Chapter 4. Weaponry and the Island’s Changing Landscape [00:27:04]
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.
Â 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.
Chapter 5. The Consequences of Leasing Out Vieques [00:42:15]
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.
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