2008. 1. 16. 01:26 2008. 1. 16. 01:26 | Green Society

Environmental problem related to Military Activities

UNEP Asia-Pacific meeting
CSO Report from Republic of Korea

1. Introduction

Since the Korean War the military has occupied a large proportion of Korean society. The military dictatorship was in power until the early 1990s so it was difficult to bring up the issue of the military in Korea. Thus the environment problem involved with the military activity existed before 1990s but it could not be informed as a social issue.

The US Force, which consists of a large proportion of the defense of South Korea, has been stationed since 1953 and there are 35,000 troops stationed in Korea now. There have been problems involved with the environment and there have been difficulties in dealing with that issue because it is the issue of extraterritoriality. However the environmental problems of the US Army continuously became social issues and some attention has been turned to the environmental problems of the Korean Army.

2. General environment policy of the Ministry of Defense

The environment issue of the Korean troops is under the influence of the general environment law in Korea. There are some different standards for the military facilities, but in most cases they are applied with the identical environmental law. The most serious environment issue in Korea is the leakage of oil. There have been no sufficient oil management facilities compared to the large amount of oil use. The most frequent problem involved with the oil is its waste and illegal dumping. Recently the separate collection policy and the collection of the waste with local governments have been promoted. However a lot of money and effort is needed to find and process the waste which has been illegally dumped. How to manage such an issue is an important key.

However there are no noise regulations for the noise generated at the military air base and the firing range. Military aircraft are excluded from the influence of the general noise regulation so more than a million people are exposed to the noise of the military aircraft. The Ministry of Defense has been promoting the legislation for the military air base noise but it has been delayed as it is expected to cost more than 7 trillion won. The measure to reduce such damage is necessary.

The US Armed Forces in Korea are under the influence of SOFA but the terms of SOFA are ambiguous.

The US Armed Forces in Korea are connected to Korean law through SOFA, and it is also to comply with the overseas US Forces environment policy and US law. Thus the Korean Government is required to supervise the US Force’s environment policy but it has not been properly done.

SOFA suggests the following.

  1. The US Armed Forces in Korea are required to comply with the Korean environment law.
  2. The Korean Government is required to examine the EGS of US Armed Forces in Korea periodically.

However the US Armed Forces in Korea only have the Korean environment law in mind rather than complying with it, so there is no force that may control such an issue. There are two kinds of subordinate document of SOFA (Share of environment information and approach process). They are; 1. the environment issue of the current base in use and 2. the environment issue of the base which will be returned in the future.

If the internal accident of the US base in Korea may influence the external area of the base, it shall be informed to both Korean and the US military organization within 48 hours, and the committee participated by the US Armed Forces in Korea, the Ministry of Environment, Defense and the local governments is organized for the resolution of the accident. However the US Armed Forces in Korea have shown passive attitude against establishing such a committee and it takes a significant length of time to investigate and negotiate the outcome of an accident, even if agreed to form such a committee. There is a restriction to enter the base and the US Armed Forces in Korea do not agree that there is a source of contamination in their base.

For the returned base of the US Armed Forces in Korea, the US Armed Forces in Korea shall remediate in case of Known, Imminent and Substantial Endangerment to human health. The joint investigation of the Ministry of Environment and the US Armed Forces in Korea has found the contamination, which exceeds the acceptable level suggested by the Korean Environment law, in 27 US bases out of 29. However the US Armed Forces in Korea have argued that such contamination is not included in KISE, and the base has been returned to Korea without any necessary purification of the contamination. The resolution of such a problem may only rely on the political negotiation between Korea and the US Government since there is no detailed standard established for KISE.

3. Case of the military environment issue in Korea 

Case 1. USFK Bombing Site at Maehayngri
Maehayngri villagers are still fighting against USFK and Lockheed Martin. Continual bombing trainings have taken place there for longer than a half century and have claimed eleven lives. Maehayngri villagers are thus being killed and made sick, while their source of livelihood is being destroyed.  GKU discovered that 5.37 mg/kg of arsenic, 13 times the Korean soil average, was found in the bombing range.  Also, cadmium was found to be 37 times higher than average, while copper was 13 times higher and lead 145 times higher than average.  It goes without saying that the land of Maehayngri is highly contaminated with heavy metals.

Case 2. Formaldehyde Leakage Accident into the Han River 
Mr. McFarland, who was found to have ordered a subordinate to pour 480 bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River, was later promoted.  He is still working in a mortuary building and to this day deals with formaldehyde in Yongsan Eighth U.S Army Base. GKU proposed a claim for damages to Korean people, but the U.S. Army announced they will not give up criminal jurisdiction since the accident happened during official duty. Under the current SOFA there is nothing that we can do about this kind of environmental disaster.

Case 3.The return of contaminated land  
According to Korea and USA agreement of LPP(Land Partnership Plan) in 2004, about 60 U.S. military bases(including fire and bombing range) in Korea will be return to Korean government by 2011. The US military bases have been "untouchable" area both by US law and Korean law. Since 2005, 24 bases returned without cleanup. It breaks the Principle of Polluters Pays. A South Korean government found at least 26 sites were polluted beyond its environmental standards. The soil’s lead and petrochemical levels at those sites would far exceed South Korean and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safety standards.
It is expected to be 120 million dollars for remediation of 24 bases, will increase including the cost of remediation for underground water.

Case 4. The noise problem by aircraft  
There is no regulation on noise by aircraft. Even students near military airbase are suffering from noise. GKU filed lawsuit with residents in Gusan airbase and won the compensation in 2002.

Case 5. Threaten by military training
In 2007, GKU conducted the field work on threaten by military training. Most of the villages near the military training site have the environmental problem such noise, soil contamination, water contamination. Some people in the villages are suffering mental problem.

4. The effort of the Ministry of Defense

The Ministry of Defense realized the seriousness of the military environment management about five years ago and it has been establishing the measure for such issue. It is now allocating a lot of its budget on the process of the military waste, which had been landfilled in the past.

The Ministry of Defense is facing a serious environment problem. There have been a lot of complaints to the Ministry of Defense as the safety and lives of local people have been threatened, and it has disturbed the right of the environment. However it has not established a sufficient measure to resolve such complaints, and such complaints has not been informed to the military bases in Korea. There are cases of the environment problem between the military bases and local people as the base has not resolved such problems. In December last year, local residents of Wonpyeong firing range, located in the north of Gyeonggi-do, complained about vibration and noise and they even disturbed the military troops entering the firing range.

The effort for the areas such as the military aircraft and firing range noise, where there are no legal restrictions, is not enough. The cooperation from the Ministry of Environment and other relevant departments is needed. The Ministry of Environment and Defense has formed a committee to resolve such issues since 2004, but they mainly focus on the environment issue of the US Armed Forces in Korea.

To resolve the environmental issues of the US Armed Forces in Korea, the Korean Government is required to request the revision of the environment regulation of the US Armed Forces positioned overseas as well as the revision of SOFA. The active negotiation between the Korean Ministry of Defense and the US Government is necessary to make ‘the Principle of Polluters Pays’ come true in Korea.

Posted by GreenKorea
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  1. 2012.04.19 13:17
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