The military's mess: Johnston Atoll, the army's 'model' chemical disposal facility, is an environmental disaster
Remote Johnston Atoll, despite its location, is no Paradise Island. It's been a dumping ground for lethal weaponry – and atomic bomb testing – since the 1950s.
Its current mandate is the burning of up to 6.6 percent of the total U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. (The cache includes some 400,000 weapons, notably mustard gas and 400 tons of nerve gas.) In January 1995, the Army asked for an extension and an additional $650 million to complete its mission; last May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the Army a year's grace period.
Plutonium is not the only lethal substance to leak into Johnston. In the 1970s, the U.S. shipped to the atoll millions of gallons of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange, the birth defect-causing defoliant used in Vietnam. According to Mr. D., "The Agent Orange was stored in 55-gallon drums, which rusted, and the Agent Orange leaked into the soil." This still-contaminated area is also fenced off. According to Wilkes, the herbicide was finally burned in 1976 on the Vulcanus II incinerator ship, which he calls "notoriously inefficient." He adds, "Here, to an extreme degree, the U.S. military does anything that is too unpopular, too dangerous and too secret to do elsewhere in the Pacific."