NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS ENVIRONMENT DIVISION TAKES ON PENTAGON

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 25, 2001 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---The U.S. Department of Defense is being held potentially liable for the Tanapag polychlorinated biphenyl contamination in the Northern Marianas Islands.

This follows implementation of newly adopted Northern Marianas Harmful Substance Cleanup Regulations.

Acting Division of Environmental Quality Director Antonio I. Deleon Guerrero wrote to the Pentagon’s Office of the General Counsel, informing him of the Defense Department’s liability.

This is the first concrete action pursued by the Northern Marianas government since the emergency adoption of the cleanup rules on harmful substances.

PCBs are a cancer-causing man-made chemical. There has been continuing controversy over the presence of PCBs in the Tanapag area on Saipan and the chemical’s effects on local people.

The United States Department of Defense is alleged to have used PCBs in a radar station in the area in the 1960s.

The Pentagon’s liability, according to the Division of Environmental Quality, is based on the final administrative order, "In the Matter of Tanapag Village," of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Guerrero said the Division of Environmental Quality’s findings are also based on information obtained by the Environment Protection Agency. This pertains to the ownership of the PCB capacitors and information contained in the report, "Site Investigation-Tanapag Fuel Farm," which deals with the ownership and operation of the fuel tanks.

The Division of Environmental Quality said a release or threatened release of harmful substances, including PCBs, dioxins and dibenzofurans, has occurred at Tanapag, and may pose a threat to human health and the environment.

"There is also evidence to suggest that a release of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorobenzenes and metals may have occurred," said Guerrero in his letter.

All this, he said, is based on information contained in, among other documents, the "Site Investigation - Tanapag Fuel Farm" and the report entitled "Remedial Action - Tanapag Contamination Phase 11."

Guerrero said based on CNMI regulations; DEQ may require a site hazard assessment, a remedial investigation/feasibility study, and compliance monitoring in Tanapag.

Assistant Attorney General Murphy Peterson earlier called on the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce its administrative order that requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to "follow state laws and regulations on hazardous wastes."

Peterson said the Northern Marianas government, with the assistance of U.S. based environmental and legal consultants, was forced to come up with its own chemical clean up regulations. This was after the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency failed to do a complete and thorough cleanup of PCBs in Tanapag.

The Tanapag Action Group, however, has raised concerns over the capability of the Division of Environmental Quality to enforce the Northern Marianas chemical cleanup regulations, when its officials’ salaries are federally funded.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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