By Jung Min-ho
Highly toxic chemicals, including dioxins and benzene, were found in soil and water near a U.S. military base in Bupyeong, Incheon, the Ministry of Environment said Friday.
According to a joint statement by the Korean and U.S. governments, Korean investigators found that soil and groundwater at Camp Market, an installation of the U.S. Army, contained various harmful chemicals.
However, the documents do not say why the chemicals, including dioxins, total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), trichloroethylene (TCE), heavy metals, benzene and tetrachloroethylene (TCE), ended up there and who is responsible for them.
After the issue came to the fore a few years ago, environmental groups accused the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) of dumping them there.
Investigators conducted an environmental field survey on Camp Market from July 2015 to March 2016. They looked deeper into the area to better understand the extent and level of contamination from June to September 2016.
The government did not immediately disclose the results of the investigation for diplomatic and security reasons, which later faced criticism from environmental groups.
"The soil from 33 sampling points in Parcel A of Camp Market were tested for dioxins. The results show that samples from seven points contained dioxins above 1,000 pg-TEQ/g. The highest dioxin concentration found was 10,347 pg-TEQ/g," the Korea-U.S. joint committee said in a statement.
Dioxins, which can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, take a long time to break down once they are in the environment.
The USFK plans to move the base to Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Province. The investigation was conducted as part of an effort to redevelop the area for the needs of its residents.
But the results suggest that it may take more time and money for the project than expected. Incheon Metropolitan Government is expected to come up with plans for the cleanup.
"The Joint Committee recognizes the concerns for environmental protection and affirms the U.S. support for the ROK Government access to Camp Market to take reasonable actions that the ROK Government considers necessary. The ROK Government will conduct actions prudently to ensure public safety," the committee said.
"The U.S. and the ROK will continue constructive consultation regarding environmental contamination and the return of Camp Market in accordance with the U.S.-ROK SOFA."