1. Background

The awareness that the US military bases may be pollution sources started to rise since the early 1990's, when the interest in environment grew in Korea Despite the fact that  nearby  agricultural land and rivers were polluted due to endless environmental pollution accidents, we weren't capable of investigating the US military bases and we also didn't have any law system appliable to the US military. Since 2000, a new SOFA environmental provision was enacted for the clean-up system of environmental pollution. However, the US military still doesn't come fully under the municipal environmental law, which makes it impossible to gain the rights to punish the responsible person or investigate according to the municipal law.
Along with the US military crimes, environmental problems of the US military bases has played a big role in bringing up the problems caused by the stationing of the US military bases and the unequal Korea-US relationship.

The environmental problems of the US military bases in Korea can be divided into the clean-up procedures of facilities which the US military is using, and the investigation and clean-up procedures of the US military facilities due to be returned. Since, the SOFA environmental provision is also divided into two sections as well, the problems with observing the environmental policies of the US Armed Forces in Korea and sharing observation remain as weak-points.


2. Features of environmental pollution accidents caused by the US military bases

1) Status and features of environmental pollution accidents since 2000

Environmental problems of the US Armed Forces in Korea went through a big conversion after the media reportages of the toxic chemical discharge into the Han river on 13th July 2000(explained later on). As it can be seen in the graph1 below, the number of environmental pollution accidents caused by the US military bases increased from an average of 3.2 cases per year during the 1990's(1990~1999) to 8.8cases per year after 2000, which is twice as much compared to the 1990's.

[Number of annual pollution accidents]

The reason why this graph shows an increase in the number of pollution accidents each year isn't because the US Armed Forces in Korea are actually causing more pollution. It rather means that the environmental pollution crimes of the US Armed Forces in Korea has recently started to get revealed one by one to the Korean society. The facts which had been there but not known to us are starting to be revealed. This is closely related to the root by which the environmental pollution accidents get known to the Korean society. Until now, all the pollution accidents caused by the US Armed Forces in Korea were known to the Korean society through informer's report from within the base, or through reports of people from the neighborhood in the cases in which the pollution source had flown outside of the base. Therefore it could be said that the reason why the number of pollution accidents has increased drastically is because people's awareness against environmental pollution caused by the US Armed Forces in Korea, and the ability of investigation and information searching of the neighboring people and organizations has been enhanced due to the Han river toxic chemical discharge case. So, if it will become possible for the Korean government to directly investigate the inside of the US military bases, the number of pollution accidents will increase even further.
Among the pollutions caused by the US Armed Forces in Korea, 77% of the total pollution consists of oil related pollution. It is believed that this is due to the fact that the oil pipelines and oil storage facilities aren't being thoroughly controled although they ware out together with the time. The facts that the pollution source which flows out easily from the bases is oil and that it is the easiest for people to identify, makes the number of oil pollution increase drastically compared to other pollutions caused by the US Armed Forces in Korea.

2) Background for the enacting of SOFA environmental provision

During the 1990's there were many environmental pollution caused by the US military bases. However, there weren't any proper way to solve these problems. The Baekwoon mountain oil leak gave a serious impact to the ecosystem of that area and brought out great criticism, which lead to the problem being brought up through the Committee of SOFA Environment Department(this area is still under clean-up). It was very hard to prove that the polluter is the US military base, even though pollution is being found around the military base. Unless the local government investigated throughly and the people carried on bringing up the problem, it was hard even to be introduced as an item on the agenda.

The incident of toxic chemical discharge into Han river occurred in 2000, which was a time when the awareness of the US military base oriented environmental pollution was growing. Formadehyde, which is used as antiseptic for corpses, was discharged down the sink of the mortuary at Yongsan base in Seoul, without any purification. Although it should have been separately disposed, since it is classified as a toxic chemical under the Korean environmental act, Albert Mcfarland, the vice chief of the mortuary, ordered the discharge to the civil employees. Since Yongsan base is near the Han river which crosses through Seoul, the capital of Korea, the toxic chemical was discharged into the Han river. This news was a shock not only to the Seoul citizens, but also to the people of Korea. As the public opinion against the US military, the commander of the US Armed Forces in Korea announced an apology statement to the people for the first time after the US military stationed in Korea. Mcfarland, the vice chief of the mortuary, who ordered the discharge was denounced for violating the water pollution prevention act.
This incident showed clearly the attitude of the US Armed Forces in Korea towards preservation of the environment. Eventually, in 2001, a environmental provision was arranged for the first time at the amendment of SOFA.

Outline of SOFA environmental provision
SOFA(Status Of Forces Agreement) defines the facilities and land for the US Armed Forces in Korea, and its status. This consists of three documents which include, the agreement, the record of the proceedings of the agreement and items of understanding. This is backed up by other memorandums of understanding and agreements of the joint committee. The environmental provision was newly added in January 2001 through SOFA record of the proceedings of the agreement and a special memorandum of understanding.

The main contents are as follows:
'A provision on environmental protection is included in the SOFA revision, stating that the US Armed Forces stationed in Korea will respect Korean environmental laws and regulations. Based on this provision, both sides shall sign a memorandum of special understandings that includes cooperative measures for environmental protection. Environmental information shall be exchanged and procedures for authorized personnel to enter the US military bases. Measurements for environmental measures will be carried out and clean up major pollutions. Korea takes appropriate actions to deal with environmental problems which may effect the US military.

3) Is the SOFA environmental provision effective?

In 2002, ‘Joint Environment Information Exchange and Access Procedures ’agreement was made as the specific method for solving the problems. This includes the following: ① In case of environmental accident occurs within the US military base, it has to be reported through telephone preferentially, ② it should be reported in documents within 48hours of the initial telephone report, ③ procedures for government personnels' entrance to the bases should be made in case of environmental accidents or return of the base, ④ The environmental protection standards of the US Armed Forces in Korea should be revised according to the Korean Law.
It may be said that the provision for environmental problems being made is meaningful. However, today, 4 years after the provision was added, we can still find problems in the procedures of how the pollution accidents are being dealt with.

The responsibility for clean-up of environmental pollution isn't clearly stated
The responsibility for clean-up of environmental pollution isn't clearly stated in the SOFA environmental provision. If the citizens of Wonju didn't show great strong resistance and protest against the oil leakage that happened in 2001 at Wonju Camp Long, it also would have been just ignored like many other cases. This case has been recorded as the first case which the US military has agreed to pay for the clean-up expenses. When we look at the clean-up progress that has been made, it is possible to see how long it takes for one pollution case to be completely solved.

No rights for investigation within the military bases
One of the rights which the civil organizations had asked for, at the time of the revision of SOFA, was the rights for investigation within the military bases. However, it was neglected. Therefore, it isn't possible to make exact investigation and identification on the polluter of environmental pollution cases.
In 2002, an investigation was carried out due to a bad smell at the subway station near the Yongsan base. An oil leakage was found as a result. However, the municipality of Seoul and the US Armed Forces in Korea showed different investigation results. The municipality of Seoul judged that the oil leaked from the Yongsan base based on the underground water flows and the location of the gas station in the Yongsan base. However, the US military didn't allow the investigation within the US military base. This was also the similar case to the Kunsan airfield oil leak in 2003. US military argued that the oil which leaked outside of the base had leaked a very long time ago. If what the US military is arguing is right, the identification of the exact polluter and the area which had been opened to long period pollution. However they are not allowing the investigation to be carried out within the bases.

No regulations for the punishment of the responsible person
Mcfarland who was responsible for the toxic chemical discharge into the Han river was sentenced for 6 months in January 2005 for the violation of water pollution provention act.  This is the first case in which the US Armed Forces in Korea personnel was punished for environmental problem under the Korean judicature. However, in the cases of other problems which the civil organizations' denunciation are normally neglected because of the lacking of will of the Korean prosecutory authorities and the lack of cooperation from the US military forces.


3. Environmental investigation and clean-up of the returned US military bases

1) Current situation of the returned US military bases

Due to the need of the US military the US military bases are being integrated, which is changing the layout of the US military bases in Korea.

In the case of the Yongsan military base return isn't really a return. It is being returned to Korea under the terms that aprox 1.7milion squared meters of land in Pyung Taek
The reason for US military to return the training fields in the northern Gyunggi province is because it has lost its military purpose
However the Story shooting range in Paju which is situated within the civilian passage restriction line has been asked by the locals for return due to the military tension that is being produced between the South and North Koreas due to the shooting range's existence. However, these voices has been neglected and instead it is being expanded.

The return plan of the US military bases according to the treaty ratified by the National Assembly is as follows. 34 US military bases are planned to be returned by 2011 under the Yongsan military base return agreement and LPP(Land Partnership Plan)

[the number of the return bases]

Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2011
number 1 1 9 4 17 1 5


2) Environmental pollution investigation of returned US military bases

According to the agreement made in 2003 the returned US military bases will be go under joint investigation from 1 year before the return. When contamination is found the US military should pay for the expense of the clean-up. 

(1) The release of the environmental pollution investigation procedures and information is up to the US military.
According to the agreement made in 2003, release of any kind of information should get the approval of the head of the committee of the environmental departments of both sides.  Without this approval, no information of any sort may be released. The US military are resisting the release of any information related to the environmental  pollution investigation. And even the Korean government is using this as an excuse to violate the people's right to know.

Recently the contamination of the heavy metal at Mehyangli was announced. This was a great shock to the people. As expected, bombing of over 50 years has destroyed the agricultural land and the ecological system People are asking for the locals and civil organizations to participate in the investigation.

[The Soil contamination survey result in Maehangri]

year        organization        result
2000        Green Korea        Lead : 845mg/kg  Chrome : 0.86mg/kgIt means that Maehangri is 24 times higher than the average level of lead in factory land in korea(34.884mg/kg)


2005        KFEM        Lead : 2500㎎/㎏(the level of standards : 100㎎/㎏)Cadmium: 2.13㎎/㎏(the 1.4 times higher than the level of standards)

2005         Seoul Newspaper          Lead : the 988 times higher than the level of the average. Cadmium : the 54.6 times higher than the average.

(2) Expansion of the people's participation
In the case of the local government, they lack of capacity which makes them less active in taking part in the investigations. The locals and civil organizations are nor allowed to take part in the investigation.
Currently the area for the joint environment investigation is restricted to the inner areas of the bases. However, this should be expanded to the outer areas of the bases, for the pollution is possible to spread out of the base areas through underground water. Several bases are actually reported for the responsibility of the pollution outside the bases.

(3) the needing of provision about the responsibility of US military for the contamination found after the return of the base.
In the case of Germany, in 1999 at the Rhein-mein treaty, the pollution found within 3 years after the return of the base should be cleaned-up with US military expenses. Therefore Korea should also clearly state the responsibility of the US military for the pollution found after the return of the base.

(4) providing the duty of the restoration
In SOFA it does not state that the US military is responsible for the restoration of the area to the original state. It has no responsibility to pay the Korean government anything in substitution for the restoration of the area. Therefore the SOFA should be revised and clearly state that the US military is responsible for the restoration of the base areas to its original state


3. conclusion

10 US military bases and training fields are to be returned in 2005. The issue which the locals and activists face is to receive the bases in a cleaned-up condition. Before the problem of who is going to own the returned land, the problem of how it is going to be cleaned-up should precede. Only then would it be possible to change those lands into lands of life and peace which is to be handed down to the future generations


2005. 9
International symposium on environmental
and human rights violations caused by U.S military Bases

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