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Outcome of defoliant probe expected late June

Probe team focuses on one area at U.S. base

The allegations that a large amount of Agent Orange was buried at Camp Carroll, a U.S. base in Waegwan, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1978 are expected to be confirmed after June 21, experts said Sunday.

A Korea-U.S. joint probe team has been investigating the camp, a key logistical support center for the U.S. troops here, since late last month following the revelation by several former U.S. Forces Korea soldiers that shocked the whole nation.

Using high-tech analysis methods, the team has been focusing on a helipad in the camp, which one of the former soldiers pointed out as a site where more than 250 drums of the toxic chemical were buried.

Mobilizing ground-penetrating radars and electrical resistivity devices, the team will continue their inspection in the helipad until June 21. As of Friday, it completed some 25 percent of the GPR survey in the helipad.

GPR radars are to help verify what is underground while electrical resistivity devices are used to survey the areas that the radars cannot penetrate, officials explained.

Along with the helipad, the team will also inspect “Area D,” a swath of land reportedly used as a “hazardous waste landfill” from 1977-1982. The inspection of the area will begin on Wednesday next week and continue until July 7.

News reports said that in the 11,250-square-meter area, more than 100 kinds of harmful chemicals including pesticides and herbicides were buried, citing a report by Samsung C&T.

The U.S. Far East Command commissioned Samsung C&T to survey the area in 2003.

According to the report, a lot of chemicals and soil in the area were dug out and put into drums. But where they were disposed of remained unknown, it said. News reports have suggested the possibility of various wastes still being buried at Area D.

The U.S. military here said they transported chemical substances they stored in Area 41 to Area D, and that they dug out some 40-60 tons of contaminated soil and chemicals in Area D and disposed of them from 1979-80.

Lt. Gen. John D Johnson, commander of the Eighth U.S. Army, told the environment minister last week that drums of chemicals ― excavated from Area D ― were transported to areas outside Korea from 1979-80.

“Our investigation is being carried out at a slow pace, but we think it is better to safely and accurately conduct it,” said a member of the probe team, declining to be named.

“After the GPR and ER results come out, we can find out whether drums of defoliants are buried. By drilling exploratory holes and taking soil samples, we could make a final decision.”

The alleged dumping of Agent Orange has prompted public calls for a full-scale environmental inspection of all U.S. military facilities in Korea as well as the 85 sites that the U.S. returned to the Seoul government between 1990 and 2003 without environmental surveys.

Some here have also clamored for the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement to ameliorate the environmental rules in it to hold the U.S. strictly responsible for its military’s possible environmental pollution here.

The current SOFA rules state that the U.S. government confirms its policy to “respect” ― rather than “observe” ― South Korea’s relevant environmental laws, regulations and standards.

Meanwhile, a health and environment research institute under Gyeonggi Province is to begin an environmental survey on areas near 28 U.S. military sites in 14 cities to find out whether they are contaminated with any toxic chemicals, particularly dioxin.

Of the total 51 sites in the province, 23 of them were returned to the South Korean government while the remaining 28 are currently used by the U.S. military.

By Song Sang-ho (