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U.S. bases have had at least 90 oil leaks

Environmentalists note most weren’t reported to Korean officials
Apr 04,2017
At least 90 incidents of oil leaks have taken place inside U.S. military installations in Yongsan, civic groups said Monday, suspecting U.S. Forces Korea of concealing massive contaminations of bases located in central Seoul.

The Green Korea United, an environmental group, Minbyun, also known as Lawyers for a Democratic Society, and a group of Yongsan residents held a joint press conference on Monday and made public their analysis into reports of oil leaks inside the Yongsan military bases from 1990 to 2015. They obtained the reports in November last year by demanding disclosure by the U.S. Defense Department in July last year using the Freedom of Information Act.

They said a total of 84 oil leaks at the main post and transportation division of Yongsan Garrison and nearby Camp Kim and Camp Coiner were documented in the Pentagon records. The number is far larger than the 13 oil leaks so far made public by the National Assembly and media. The Korean official record says there were five oil leaks between 1990 and 2015.

The civic groups also said the Pentagon data was missing six oil leaks that were made public in Korea. Adding them up, at least 90 oil leaks took place, they said.

According to the analysis, seven out of the 90 incidents were major oil leaks of more than 3,789 liters (1,000 gallons) each. On Oct. 2, 1997, about 28,803 liters of diesel fuel was leaked inside the Yongsan Garrison, they said. Another 7,560 liters of gasoline was leaked on Dec. 1, 1998, the civic groups also said.

There were also 24 cases of leaks, each involving between 110 to 1,000 gallons.

“The main causes of the leaks were the fraying storage tanks and pipes,” said Yoon Sang-hoon, an activist of the Green Korea United. “The oil that was spilled was mostly JP-8, a jet fuel specified and used widely by the U.S. military. In fact, all U.S. military bases in Yongsan are contaminated.”

He also said the U.S. military noted they had done decontamination operations after the leaks, but the contaminations are still serious, citing that the measurements of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), an indicator of site contamination, at the nearby areas were far higher than the allowed limits.

He said the TPH measurement of Noksapyeong subway station was 5,373 times the underground water standard in 2011 and the TPH measurement near Camp Kim in 2015 was 8,633 times the underground water standard.

The civic groups demanded a survey by the government, Seoul Metropolitan Government and experts because the Pentagon data is not necessarily accurate. They also demanded U.S. Forces Korea formally apologize for its failure to make public the oil leaks.

They said the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) must be revised to require the U.S. military to inform Korean authorities about environmental accidents, and that information sharing between the two countries on environmental accidents and the people’s access to the information should also be guaranteed.

“The government wants to offer accurate explanations to the public, but the condition doesn’t allow us to do so,” Kim Ji-yeon, an official of the Environment Ministry, said. “We are continuing our talks with the U.S. military.”

Under the current agreement between the two countries, all environmental information offered to the media must be authorized by both U.S. and Korean authorities.

Yongsan Garrison is scheduled to be relocated to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, by the end of 2017, but no official negotiation has begun. It remains to be seen who will take responsibility for the environmental decontamination of the sites.

“The government said it will use the sites as an ecological park, but decontamination must be done first,” said Kim Eun-hee, head of the residents’ group. “The U.S. military must be held accountable for the decontamination before returning the sites.”

BY KANG CHAN-SU [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]