Militarism in the Air We Breathe
If there is a group of Americans to whom Iraqis struggling with the health effects of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, white phosphorous, and all the various poisons of war can relate, it might be the mostly black and largely poor residents of Gibsland, in northern Louisiana.
Here’s how an op-ed in the New York Times from one resident describes their situation:
“For years, one of the largest employers in that area was the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, about four miles from Minden. The Environmental Protection Agency eventually listed the plant as a Superfund site because for more than 40 years ‘untreated explosives-laden wastewater from industrial operations was collected in concrete sumps at each of the various load line areas,’ and emptied into ’16 one-acre pink water lagoons.’”
And now (from Truthout.org):
“After months of bureaucratic disputes between the Army and state and federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) recently announced an emergency plan to burn 15 million pounds of M6 — up to 80,000 pounds a day over the course of a year — on open ‘burn trays’ at Camp Minden, a disposal process that environmental advocates say is outdated and has been outlawed in other countries. The operation would be one of the largest open munitions burn in U.S. history.”
Every once in a while — around Vieques or Jeju Island or Pagan Island — environmental organizations find themselves confronting one little corner of the environment’s greatest destroyer. While the big environmental groups seem unlikely to confront the institution of war itself until it’s too late, we should take these opportunities to encourage them. Because they are taking on the military over this burn. There are plenty of former members of the U.S. military who can tell them about the health impacts of burns abroad, which veterans refer to as “the new Agent Orange.” The EPA can fill activists in on who creates the most environmental disasters within the United States. Hint: It starts with mil and rhymes with solitary.
A major motivation behind some wars is the desire to control resources that poison the earth, especially oil and gas. That fact, often disguised, should be faced by those of us concerned over the earth’s future. The wars are not to protect us but to endanger us, by the generation of animosity and by the destruction of our planet. The production of the world’s largest, most wasteful military ever is not a safety measure in case a good war comes along, but exactly what Eisenhower warned it would be, a generator of wars. The $1 trillion the United States dumps into the war machine each year is needed for urgent environmental protection. And the war preparations spending does not enrich us; it impoverishes us while concentrating wealth away from places like Gibsland. That’s a lot of downsides for an institution whose main function is to kill lots of innocent people while stripping away our civil liberties.
But, back to the environmental downside. And oil. Oil can be leaked or burned off, as in the Gulf War, but primarily it is put to use in all kinds of machines polluting the earth’s atmosphere, placing us all at risk. Some associate the consumption of oil with the supposed glory and heroism of war, so that renewable energies that do not risk global catastrophe are viewed as cowardly and unpatriotic ways to fuel our machines. The interplay of war with oil goes beyond that, however. The wars themselves, whether or not fought for oil, consume huge quantities of it. One of the world’s top consumer of oil, in fact, is the U.S. military.
The U.S. military burns through about 340,000 barrels of oil each day. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rank 38th out of 196 in oil consumption. There’s just no other institution that comes remotely close to the military in this or other types of environmental destruction. (But try to discover that fact at an anti-pipeline march.)
The environment as we know it will not survive nuclear war. It also may not survive “conventional” war, understood to mean the sorts of wars now waged. Intense damage has already been done by wars and by the research, testing, and production done in preparation for wars. Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War “rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality,” according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School.
Perhaps the most deadly weapons left behind by wars are land mines and cluster bombs. Tens of millions of them are estimated to be lying around on the earth, oblivious to any announcements that peace has been declared. Most of their victims are civilians, a large percentage of them children.
It is wonderful to have organizations now and again challenging particular aspects of the destruction war causes. Below is a letter that every peace and environmental and peace-environmental organization in the world should sign onto:Φ
Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Mail Code: 2201A
Washington, DC 20460 Giles-Aa.cynthia@Epa.gov
SENT BY ELECTRONIC MAIL
RE: Proposed Open Burning of M6 Propellants at Camp Minden, Louisiana
Dear Assistant Administrator Giles,
We, the undersigned organizations, join Louisiana residents, workers and families in their call for a safer alternative to open burning of hazardous wastes at Camp Minden.
We oppose the plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to OPEN BURN 15 million pounds of abandoned M6 propellants at Camp Minden, Louisiana. By definition, open burning has no emissions controls and will result in the uncontrolled release of toxic emissions and respirable particulates to the environment. M6 contains approximately 10 percent dinitrotoluene (DNT) which is classified as a probable human carcinogen.1
Concerns for the potential human health risk created by open burning/open detonation as well as for environmental impacts on the air, soil, and water have required the military to identify and develop alternatives to open burning/open detonation treatment.2 Moreover, as the EPA’s plan provides for the safe handling and transport to an open burning area, these wastes could be similarly moved to an alternative treatment facility or system.
While we support the EPA’s initiative to require the U.S. Army to clean up and dispose of these improperly stored explosive wastes, we do not support open burning as a remedy given the inherent and avoidable risks to human health and the environment.
1U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Technical Fact Sheet, Dinitrotoluene (DNT), January 2014.
2 US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratories USACERL Technical Report 98/104, Alternatives to Open Burning/Open Detonation of Energetic Materials, A Summary of Current Technologies, August 1998.
Laura Olah, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, Wisconsin Dolores Blalock, ArkLaTex Clean Air Network, LLC, Louisiana
Marylee M. Orr, Executive Director, Louisiana Environmental Action Network/Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Louisiana
Devawn Palmer-Oberlender, Environmental Patriots of the New River Valley, Virginia Pamela Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska
Craig Williams, Chemical Weapons Working Group, Kentucky
Erin Brockovich & Bob Bowcock, California
United Tribe of Shawnee Indians, Principal Chief, Jim Oyler, Kansas
Tim Lopez, Director, Voluntary Cleanup Advisory Board, Colorado
Greg Wingard, Executive Director, Waste Action Project, Washington
Mable Mallard, Philadelphia Community Right To Know Committee, Pennsylvania Doris Bradshaw, Defense Depot Memphis Tennessee – Concerned Citizens Committee Isis Bradshaw, Youth Terminating Pollution, Tennessee
Kaye Kiker, Community Organizer, Citizens Task Force, Alabama
Wilbur Slockish, Columbia River Education and Economic Development, Oregon
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Wisconsin
Doris Bradshaw, Military Toxics Project, Tennessee
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, California
LeVonne Stone, Fort Ord Environmental Justice Network, California
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment), California
Josh Fast, Educator, PermanentGardens.com, Louisiana
Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association, Minnesota
Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Louisiana
Marcia Halligan, Kickapoo Peace Circle, Wisconsin
Kathy Sanchez, EJ RJ, Tewa women United org., New Mexico
J. Gilbert Sanchez, CEO, Tribal Environmental Watch Alliance, New Mexico
David Keith, Valley Citizens for a Safe Environment, Massachusetts
Forest Jahnke, Crawford Stewardship Project, Wisconsin
Maria Powell, President, Midwest Environmental Justice Organization, Wisconsin
Evelyn Yates, Pine Bluff for Safe Disposal, Arkansas
Cheryl Slavant, Ouachita Riverkeeper, Louisiana
Jean E. Mannhaupt, President, Park Ridge @ Country Manors Home Owners Assoc., New York
Stephen Brittle, President, Don’t Waste Arizona
Alison Jones Chaim, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin
Jill Johnston, Southwest Workers Union, Texas
Robert Alvarado, Committee for Environmental Justice Action, Texas
Phyllis Hasbrouck, Chair, West Waubesa Preservation Coalition, Wisconsin
John LaForge, Nukewatch, Wisconsin
Guy Wolf, Co-Director, DownRiver Alliance, Wisconsin
Don Timmerman & Roberta Thurstin, Casa Maria Catholic Worker, Wisconsin
LT General Russel Honore (Ret), GreenARMY, Louisiana
John LaForge, The Progressive Foundation, Wisconsin
Paul F. Walker, Ph.D., Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International, Washington, DC
Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana
Lenny Siegel, Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight, California
John E. Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders, Wisconsin
Lois Marie Gibbs, Executive Director, Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Virginia
Willie Fontenot, Conservation Chair, Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, Louisiana
Kimberlee Wright, Executive Director, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc., Wisconsin
Elizabeth O’Nan, Director, Protect All Children’s Environment, North Carolina
Frances Kelley, Louisiana Progress Action, Louisiana
Patrick Seymour, ISIS institute MilWaste Project, Massachusetts
Christina Walsh, Executive Director, cleanuprocketdyne.org, California
Glen Hooks, Chapter Director, Arkansas Sierra Club, Arkansas
Laura Ward, President, Wanda Washington, Vice President, FOCUS, Inc (Family Oriented Community United Strong, Inc.), Florida
Ed Dlugosz, President, NJ Friends of Clearwater, New Jersey
Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, LA Bucket Brigade, Louisiana
Monica Wilson, GAIA: Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, California
Dean A. Wilson, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Louisiana
Robin Schneider, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas
Lara Norkus-Crampton, Coordinator, Minneapolis Neighbors for Clean Air, Minnesota Haywood Martin, Chair, Sierra Club Delta Chapter, Louisiana
Mitzi Shpak, Executive Director, Action Now, California
Jane Williams, Executive Director, California Communities Against Toxics, California Robina Suwol, Executive Director, California Safe Schools, California
Renee Nelson, President, Clean Water and Air Matter (CWAM), California
Lisa Riggiola, Citizens For A Clean Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Executive Director, GreenLaw
James Little, member, Western Broome Environmental Stakeholder Coalition, New York Sparky Rodrigues, Malama Makua, Hawaii
Barry Kissin, Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board, Maryland
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.