Read the full article by Julia Kane (Grist)
“On a recent Saturday, Monaeka Flores made the drive from her apartment to her family’s land on the north coast of Guam, the U.S. island territory about 1,500 miles south of Japan. As she steered through a gap in a limestone cliff, the land fell away to her right. A lush tropical forest sloped down to a white sand beach scattered with dark, porous rocks. Beyond that, Flores could see a fringe of reef and the bright blue of the western Pacific stretching to the horizon. Driving north to Inapsan Beach, toward her family’s land, she always feels ‘this excitement, this energy, this joy bubbling up inside me,’ she said.
…Inapsan is land that Flores’ family ranched on for generations. They are CHamoru, Indigenous people who have called Guam and the other Mariana Islands home for more than 3,500 years. ‘When I’m there, I feel the sadness and pain drain from my body,’ she said. ‘It is such a beautiful place. Such a giving, healing place.’
Now, that place is threatened.
About three miles southeast of Inapsan, Andersen Air Force Base operates an explosive ordnance disposal range on Tarague Beach. In May last year, the Air Force applied to renew a permit to destroy up to 35,000 pounds of excess or obsolete munitions each year — everything from incendiary bombs to bullets, from anti-tank mines to smoke grenades — by detonating and burning them right on the beach.
If granted, the permit will give Andersen Air Force Base the option to conduct open burning and open detonation operations for the next three years, releasing a slew of toxic chemicals, including explosives like RDX, HMX, and TNT, thyroid-disrupting compounds like perchlorates, and persistent toxins like PCBs and PFAS. Black plumes could rise from the open burn pits. ‘Kickout’ from the explosions could be flung up to half a mile away, contaminating the nearby reef and limestone forest. The chemicals could accumulate in the soil, leach down, and poison the shallow, freshwater aquifer that provides water for 80 percent of Guam.
To prevent this, in late January, a community group called ‘Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian’ filed a lawsuit against the Air Force and the Department of Defense. (In CHamoru, prutehi means protect, and Litekyan is the CHamoru name for an ancient village in northern Guam, an area now known as Ritidian.) The group, which Flores helped found to protect natural and cultural resources on the island, says the military failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, when applying to renew the permit. They argue that Andersen Air Force Base did not consider the environmental and cultural harms that could be inflicted by detonating and burning hazardous waste in the open air.
…Tarague Beach sits above Guam’s sole source aquifer: a fragile pool of fresh water that floats atop denser salt water within the island’s permeable limestone. In response to questions from Grist, an EPA spokeswoman wrote that ‘certain contaminants [from open burning and open detonation] pose more risk than others because they are highly soluble in water, and relatively stable and mobile in soil or surface water and groundwater … Ideally, OB/OD [open burning/open detonation] operations treating explosive wastes containing these constituents would not be located on a shallow aquifer.’
But some of the 104 different types of waste munitions that the Air Force listed in its permit renewal application, which it is seeking permission to burn or detonate above a shallow aquifer, do contain water-soluble contaminants, like PFAS. ‘These are chemicals that will never break down in our environment, that will continue to poison the land and the water for many generations to come,’ Flores warned.
If approved, the permit would also allow the Air Force to burn and detonate materials not specifically listed in the application. In the past, the military has used the site to dispose of unexploded ordnance found around the island that dates back to World War II.”…