SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 29) - The volume of treated polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)-contaminated soil in Tanapag has reached 31,500 tons or 530 percent more than the original estimate of 5,000 tons, it was learned.

This figure does not include the stockpiled PCB-laced soil that has been excavated but remain untreated, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The tremendous increase in excavated and treated PCB-tainted soil will lead to some difficulties, including the need for continuous federal funding and concerns about the life-span of the treatment machine which was designed only for about 5,000 tons of soil.

The Army Corps and its contractor, Environmental Chemical Corp., has treated 31,500 tons of PCB-laced soil as of Monday, or 1,200 tons since the resumption of treatment this year after the holiday break.

Frank Ono, on-island representative of Army Corps Honolulu District, said they have already secured funding for the additional 5,000 tons of contaminated soil to be treated.

"But more than that, or when it reaches over 36,000, we need to find funding again," Ono said.

Funding for cleanup and other non-combatant activities from the U.S. Department of Defense has become much limited in recent years, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the looming war against Iraq.

He said the indirect thermal desorption machine has "been running very old," considering that it has so far treated over 31,000 PCB-tainted soil but was designed only for about 5,000 tons.

"You can just imagine the pressure on the machine because there’s too much soil that need to be treated. The machine cannot last forever," said Ono.

Recently, the Army Corps and ECC had to replace a portion of the treatment machine’s combustion air blower that was broken.

After treatment, the treated soil still has to be tested to ensure it meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup standard of below 1 part per million for PCB.

Aside from Tanapag, an area in I-Denni has also been confirmed contaminated with PCB and lead exceeding EPA’s primary remediation goal. Cleanup for this site, however, has not been done.

PCBs are man-made chemicals suspected to be cancer-causing and linked to physical, mental, and behavioral disruption affecting fertility, learning ability, aggression, parenting and mating.

January 29, 2003

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