The Pentagon is the largest producer of toxic waste in our nation. It produces 500,000 tons of toxic waste each year. This is more than the top five chemical companies combined. The Pentagon has counted more than 4,000 toxic waste sites on nearly 500 military bases around the nation and is still counting. This is nearly four times the number of toxic waste sites on the civilian Superfund list. The government, which is supposed to safeguard the environment, is the nation’s single worst polluter.
Tinker Air Force Base, sprawling across an Oklahoma City suburb, is the largest base of its kind in the world. Tinker also is the Air Force’s worst polluter.
For more than a decade, Tinker has illegally discharged untreated cancer-causing chemicals into public waters, despite reprimands by the state, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the General Accounting Office (GAO), and the Air Force itself.
The danger to area waters is grave. Tinker sits atop the zone that recharges central Oklahoma’s only underground supply with fresh water. If that aquifer becomes contaminated, large segments of the state’s water supply will become undrinkable. The base dumps trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene, methylene chloride, and many other carcinogens, teratogens, and mutagens, all at levels grossly exceeding EPA limits for these compounds in drinking waters. The levels of some are the highest ever recorded in surface waters in the U.S. Charles J. Mankin, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, testified more than a year ago that “The potential for contamination (of the aquifer below) is clear and immediate.”
Despite the continued warnings, GAO investigators say base commanders have routinely swept the bases’s practices under the rug to avoid a scandal during their respective tenures. They show little or no concern that gross amounts of pollutants continue to enter the ground water. Base officials maintain that there are only occasional spills of chemicals, all of which are appropriately cleaned. Nonetheless, two on-base water wells and a private off-base well have had to be closed.
While Tinker exemplifies the Pentagon’s toxic waste problem, nobody knows the full extent of the problem nationwide and the military doesn’t really know what to do except to conduct more studies. The Air Force has hired several military contractors to clean up its toxic sites; ironically, all of them are major toxic polluters themselves.
THE PROGRESSIVE, December 1986, “Base Maneuvers: The Air Force Serves Up Toxic Soup,” by Anthony L. Kimery, pp 33-35; RECON, Winter 1987, “Toxic Waste: Pentagon #1,” by The Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes, p 2.