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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Nov. 16, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Some Tanapag residents are considering the filing of a class action suit against the U.S. Department of Defense for contaminating the village with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs) and dioxin.

These hazardous chemicals, left by American troops in 1960s, are being blamed by residents for a number of unusual diseases that have plagued the community, as well as for the destruction of the environment.

According to former Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Benigno M. Sablan, he was given authority by 24 residents to tap the services of lawyers who would help them in a legal battle against DOD. He said the lawsuit might also include the Office of Insular Affairs, the CNMI government, and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources.

The group is also reaching out to former Tanapag residents who have transferred their residences to other villages on Saipan.

"A lot of them have already been sick even before they left Tanapag, so we are trying to reach out to them," said Sablan.

The health and environmental problem in Tanapag, a northern coastal village on Saipan, began when an unknown quantity of ceramic capacitors containing Arochlor 1254 and PCB oil were shipped to Saipan in the '60s by DOD.

Investigation showed that these capacitors were manufactured by Cornell-Dublier Electronics as part of the Defense Department's Nike-Zeus contract for its ballistic missile early warning system radar installation.

Due to the failure of the Defense Department to clean up the village after the war, the electrical capacitors spread in the community, as they were used as barricades, boundary markers, roadblocks for driveways, windbreaks for barbecue sites and headstones.

Some capacitors were even found open, as their phenolic linings were used to decorate rooftops and cemeteries in the village.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims that the village is already safe and cleared of PCB contamination, saying the Lower Base Cemetery is the only area which remains unsafe. But the people in the community have questioned the Army’s credibility since it took them a long time to recognize the problem they have caused in Tanapag.

Manufacturing of PCBs was stopped in the United States in 1977 because of evidence pointing to its harmful effects on the environment and people's health.

Experiments conducted on animals show that PCBs caused cancer as well as affected their immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. Studies in humans have raised further concerns regarding the cancer-causing potential of PCBs.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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