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Chemicals found at former military dump

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - Petroleum hydrocarbons, benzopyrene, arsenic, lead, mercury and PCBs - all chemicals found in the surface soil of the Ibanez and Guerrero properties in Toto. While each are known to have negative impacts on human health, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency feels there is no immediate concern.

"We really have not found the levels that are high enough to actually impact the health so we continued to monitor what's out there," said an EPA representative. That conclusion was echoed from a final proposed plan released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As we reported, the property was once used as a military dumpsite, and for decades the families living there have been trying to get it cleaned up.

During a public meeting last night, residents grilled Wil-Chee Planning and Environmental Project Manager Derek Yasaka on the findings. Yasaka said, "The analysis revealed none of the metals exceeded the threshold or action, as per USEPA." When asked how those conditions might affect his health he responded, "I'm not sure, exactly." He also said he wasn't sure if such were present during the war, adding, "but its present in the water table right now."

He also said it wasn't contributing to contamination, "because we are seeing it in wells outside the property."

Since the early 1990's the Ibanez family has granted access to the Army Corps of Engineers to assess their property, even finding thousands of glass ampules filled with calcium hypochlorite. While that chemical also proved to have negative impacts on the human body, resident Linda Ibanez was disturbed to learn that still nothing is being done to clean up the site anytime soon.

"It takes years to do sample testing, to do all the assessment and tell us you are at risk, you're a human threat but we can't do anything yet until funding?," she said, with Helene Takemoto adding, "For us to enact and start the debris removal project it has to be qualified as an immediate danger to life and safety because if its just buried in the ground that doesn't really qualify to being an immediate danger to life and safety."

Takemoto, a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers program manager, says she has over 500 other sites in the pacific that are of greater priority. She says the funding is just not available at this time. But this explanation frustrated residents even more, as Victoria Leon Guerrero said, "There's a bad connection between PCBs and pesticides and miscarriages and birth defects and that's been proven in our family, we've lost children living in this property."

"That's why we are stepping in a taking responsibility to clean this up the only other way that you can do that is then you turn around and plan to get compensation for any kind of clean up that you've done through litigation," said Takemoto.

While property owner Vicente Ibanez says he does not plan on taking legal action, Yasaka says they decided once the funding is available that they would conduct excavation and off site disposal of the contaminants. In the interim, he says, "The intent is to be able to tallow nature to heal itself or correct the problem through biodegrading processes.

While the Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comments until May 26 on the proposed cleanup effort, it seems the families will have to continue living on the property without knowing the specific health risks in their backyard.

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