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Court orders release of information on U.S. military base pollution

A Seoul court ordered the South Korean government to release information about the level of pollution on the U.S. military base in Seoul on Thursday, ruling in favor of an association of environmental civic groups.

The ruling by the Seoul Administrative Court comes nearly a year after civic groups, including Green Korea United and the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, filed a suit against the Environment Ministry to demand the result of the inspection be revealed to the public.

The Environment Ministry conducted on-site investigations of the alleged contamination at U.S. military bases across the country in May 2015, prior to the scheduled relocation of key military bases to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, by 2017.
Civic groups demand the government release information about the level of pollution at the U.S. military base in central Seoul at press conference held near the camp Thursday. Yonhap
Civic groups demand the government release information about the level of pollution at the U.S. military base in central Seoul at press conference held near the camp Thursday. Yonhap
The ministry rejected the civic groups’ request for the disclosure of the inspection results on underground water systems and land at the bases, citing “diplomatic issues.”

Earlier in the day, the nongovernmental groups held a press conference in Itaewon near the Yongsan-based U.S. Eighth Army Command in central Seoul, criticizing the Korean government for overlooking the health and safety of its people.

“The U.S. military and Korean government decide how much the U.S. military should be responsible for contamination at its former bases ahead of relocation. Our lands in Busan and Dongducheon (where other U.S. bases had been located) were returned to us contaminated,” said Shin Soo-yeon, an activist for Green Korea United.

They urged the government to reveal sufficient information on contamination at the bases to reopen the negotiation and make “fair” agreements in terms of costs the U.S. Army should cover to clean up the sites.

Since 1988, there have been 14 reported cases of environmental contamination involving U.S. bases here.

In 2000, the U.S. Eighth Army Command was found to have dumped untreated toxic waste into the Hangang River, a major source of drinking water for Seoul residents. In 2001 and 2006, oil was spilled from the U.S. Army Garrison and Camp Kim in Yongsan, contaminating underground water systems in the neighborhood.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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