Sunday, July 25, 2010

Another Fine Mess

So, what does an army do when it exits another country after pounding it into the dirt? Just go, leaving all the destruction and the base garbage for the conquered nation to deal with?

Oh, no, no, NO! We are being reassured by the military that the troops are busy cleaning up all the hazardous waste it can find in Iraq, labeling it properly, and shipping it out.

Where it's being shipped to exactly is not made clear in this McClatchy DC article (originally written for the Christian Science Monitor with whom McClatchy has an agreement), but what is clear is that the Pentagon got riled by some articles in the world press alleging the US was ignoring the mess it had made, some of it containing hazardous chemicals and materials. So it invited folks from the press and the appropriate agencies of the Iraqi government to tour one of its state of the art disposal facilities in Tikrit.

American commanders in Iraq are working to demonstrate that they are clearing the country of tens of millions of pounds of U.S.-made hazardous waste in an effort to rebut claims that U.S. troops are leaving behind a toxic legacy as they withdraw.

Hundreds of barrels of all types and all colors — filled with everything from discarded lithium batteries and oil filters to powerful chemicals such as hydrochloric acid — are stacked in a dusty compound on a U.S. base at Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

This and a sister facility on another base have so far processed 32 million pounds of "regulated" waste — more than half of it soil contaminated with petroleum products. The material has been decontaminated, crushed or shredded, and then sold as scrap in Iraq, or recycled and shipped abroad.
[Emphasis added]

I have to admit that's a pretty impressive undertaking, and I also have to admit that I am glad to see it. What I don't see in the article is the reprocessing of dirt loaded with lead from bullets and shells from their practice ranges or battle sites, but then the military hasn't been real good about voluntarily cleaning the lead out of US bases that were closed, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Nor was their any mention of removing unexploded ordinance (such as cluster bomblets) or nuclear tipped ordinance from the fields of Iraq. Properly disposing of unused paint and paint thinner is nice, but in the long run Iraqi kids are going to lose more limbs from our left behind shells.

But here's the fun part: our military admits that some of the problems are caused by their civilian pals, the contractors. Check out this admission from an officer charged to clean up the mess:

Reports of "regulated waste being left all over the countryside" also prompted the U.S. military to investigate — and then to counter the claims, said Army Brig. Gen. Kendall Cox, the U.S. commander in charge of engineering in Iraq.

"The intent was to insure, through the media ... there's a clear understanding that we are taking every measure possible ... to protect the environment and treat all regulated waste and materials appropriately," he said.

"We have a very systematic process in place to receive materials, treat them and dispose of them properly," he added. "We haven't identified any problems with our processes. What we did identify is potentially there are contractors who aren't dealing with their regulated waste properly."
[Emphasis added]

What a surprise, eh?

So, the war is winding down, another 20,000 US troops are scheduled to leave in the reasonably near future (leaving around 50,000 others), and the US is scurrying to clean up one inevitable part of war: the environmental disaster.

Well, sorta. Kinda.

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