19. Poison in the Pacific
The Progressive, 409 E. Main Street Wisconsin, WI 53703, Date: July 1992, Title:
"Poison in the Pacific," Author: Robert Walters
SSU Censored Researcher
SYNOPSIS: In 1962, Johnston Island, a once idyllic atoll in
the mid-Pacific, became the site of one of man's most destructive experiments
-- the atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the United States. Today,
it is once again the site of a potentially catastrophic event -- the
dismantling and destruction of more than 60 million pounds of aging
but increasingly deadly chemical weapons. The Johnston Atoll Chemical
Agent Disposal System is a massive incinerator complex built by the
Army at a cost of $240 million. This will serve as the prototype for
similar facilities to be built at eight designated sites in the United
400,000 chemical weapons to be destroyed on Johnston Island were fabricated for
use in World Wars I and II and then for deployment against the Soviet Union during
the Cold War. Because they're increasingly unstable, military experts fear that
if not soon neutralized, they could explode or ignite spontaneously possibly causing
a catastrophic accident.
Equally worrisome, the testing has not gone well.
Originally, the test period was to last about 16 months, from mid1990 through
late 1991. But as investigative journalist Robert Walters discovered, "Work
had to be halted on 65 of the first 85 days of scheduled operations in 1990 because
gas-leak monitors sounded false alarms, conveyor belts melted, the incinerator
overheated and mechanical equipment failed. Last year, major repairs and modifications
required a protracted shutdown."
Meanwhile, given the anxiety and hostility
among residents of communities adjacent to almost all of the eight mainland Army
bases where decommissioning is scheduled to occur in the future, serious questions
have arisen about whether those facilities should ever by built in the U.S. Now,
thought is being given to dismantling the entire U.S. operation and moving it
to Johnston Island. Not surprisingly, this prospect has made Pacific Island residents
and public officials, including those in Hawaii, increasingly fearful that the
region's air, land and water will be poisoned by seepage of lethal dioxins and
furans produced during the incineration process.
However, the Army is not
overly concerned with the feelings of the 1,200 residents of Johnston Island:
900 of them are employees of companies holding Defense Department contracts and
the other 300 are Army personnel.
When President George Bush flew to Hawaii
on a political trip in 1990, he held a little-publicized meeting with the leaders
of 11 small mid-Pacific nations to discuss their concern that the Johnston Island
testing operation would become the sole disposal site. He assured the leaders
that the U.S. planned to dispose of "only the chemical munitions...found
in the Pacific Islands and those relatively small quantities shipped from Germany."
(One hundred thousand chemical artillery shells, originally stored in West Germany,
were shipped to Johnston Island in late 1990.) Despite the President's reassurances,
there is still concern among the islanders.
COMMENTS: Investigative author Robert Walters charges that "Nothing
-- absolutely nothing -- that occurs in the interior Pacific 'receives
sufficient exposure in the media' in any given year. The article in
question was about environmental perils in the region, but other issues
are equally well ignored. That's ironic at a time when the 'Pacific
Basin' supposedly has become so important to the rest of the world.
"In fact, all of that region's highly publicized growth is occurring
in the nations along the ocean's rim. The interior island jurisdictions,
scattered across a vast expanse of water that covers one-third of the
planet's surface, have been consigned to the status of 'fly-over country.'
For those traveling between Seattle, Los Angeles or Chicago and Tokyo,
Taipei or Hong Kong, island countries such as Nauru and Niue have become
the region's counterparts of Kansas and Nebraska -- not suitable for
viewing at an altitude of less than 35,000 feet.
what occurs in the insular Pacific is especially important for citizens of the
United States, which defeated Japan in World War II for rights to exercise military,
economic, and cultural control over the single largest geographic feature on the
face of the Earth.
"In the ensuing decades, this country has abused
its position of power. It has conducted atmospheric nuclear tests that still contaminate
the homes -- and bodies -- of innocent indigenous people, established debilitating
welfare economies through the islands and now tests a discredited 'Star Wars'
system by firing missiles from a California military base into an atoll in the
"There's almost certainly a correlation between the
lack of press coverage and the growing popularity of the insular Pacific as a
venue to dump the 'civilized world's' industrial, commercial and residential garbage.
The physically remote location minimizes the likelihood that the news media (or
others who might engage in oversight) will be on hand to report on what is occurring."
Walters said in his article: "Entrepreneurs from outside the region prefer
to do business in the remote locations of the interior Pacific, where they're
unlikely to encounter aggressive regulators, environmentalists, curious journalists
or others who might cramp their style."