Governmental programme to clean up the US’ Formerly Utilized Defense Sites (FUDS) is more than 50 years behind

A governmental investigation of more than 9,000 FUDS, many of which pose a threat to human health and the environment, has revealed that the programme is more than 50 years behind schedule and that a Pentagon review gave “a misleading picture” by stating that more than 50% of the cleanup work had been completed when the true figure is less than one third.

The year-long investigation by the governmental General Accounting Office (GAO), brought at the request of Congressmen John D. Dingell and Tom Sawyer. “These seriously contaminated sites must be addressed in a timely manner before this dangerous brew threatens public health and safety,” Dingell, senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, warned. “The Corps’ work to date has principally focused on the ‘cheapest and least technologically challenging’ work such as tearing down buildings and pulling tanks while many high- and medium-risk properties with toxic groundwater contamination or unexploded ordinance have been left to percolate”.

The GAO report, Cleanup Actions at Formerly Used Defense Sites, written in July but only now made public, says that the Army Corps of Engineers’ established goal of cleaning up FUDS contaminated with toxic, hazardous, and radioactive waste by 2014, at approximately $200 million per year, is short by more than 50 years. After 15 years and expenditures of $2.6 billion, only 32% of the projects that required actual cleanup actions have been completed, mainly the cheapest and easiest ones to perform, and not 50% as the Corps has claimed.

The report contends that the Corps cost estimate of $13 billion to complete the cleanup of these properties does not account for cleanup of unexploded ordinance on FUDS properties which the Corps estimates will cost more than an additional $5 billion. Nationwide, at FUDS with high risk projects, only 16% ($961 million out of $6 billion) of the necessary work has been funded and of the medium-risk projects nationwide only 3% ($73.5 million out of $2.8 billion) has been funded.

The GAO also found that the Department of Defense reporting with respect to cleanups completed provides a misleading picture of the FUDS program accomplishments by including ineligible projects or projects that did not involve any actual cleanup effort. According to the report, the Corps determination that no contamination or other hazards exist that require cleanup was made without input from state or federal regulatory agencies, which may not agree.

In December 1998, the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials conducted a survey of 39 states and found that “over half indicated that they had reason to believe that the US Army Corps of Engineers has not made sound environmental decisions regarding no further action determinations at FUDS”. The GAO is conducting a separate investigation of the 4,070 sites at the request of Representatives Dingell and Sawyer.

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