TOXIC NEW YORK UNCOVERED

June 23, 2018 at 4:15 am

An investigation into sites containing deadly, hazardous waste reveals hot spots all over Long Island and the New York area. A shocking report tonight from Pro Publica’s Senior Environmental Reporter, Abrahm Lustgarten.

Aired on December 18, 2017 and June 22, 2018.

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>>> EACH YEAR THE PENTAGON
SPENDS MORE THAN A BILLION
DOLLARS TO CLEAN UP TOXIC SITES
LEFT BEHIND BY MILITARY
INSTALLATIONS ACROSS THE
COUNTRY, INCLUDING RIGHT HERE IN
NEW YORK.
NOW A NEW REPORT ENTITLED "BOMBS
IN OUR BACKYARD" REVEALS THE
SCALE OF THE PROGRAM AND HOW
IT'S AFFECTING LOCAL
COMMUNITIES.
USING DATA FROM THE DEPARTMENT
OF DEFENSE, USERS CAN ENTER AN
ADDRESS TO SEE NEARBY HAZARDOUS
SITES AND THE LEVEL OF RISK THEY
IMPOSE.
A LOOK AT THE MAP SHOWS THAT NEW
YORK HAS FIVE HAZARDOUS SITES
THAT ARE CONSIDERED HIGH OR
MEDIUM RISK.
ON LONG ISLAND, THERE'S 7
INSTALLATIONS CONSIDERED MEDIUM
OR HIGH RISK.
FOR EXAMPLE THE 156 ACRE SUFFOLK
COUNTY AIR FORCE BASE IN WEST
HAMPTON WAS DEACTIVATED IN 1970,
IT'S CONSIDERED HIGH RISK FOR
CONTAMINATED GROUND WATER,
SEDIMENT AND SOIL.
THEY'RE ALSO HIGH RISK SITES AT
THE FORMER NAVAL BASES.
MILITARY WASTE HAS POISONED
MILLIONS OF ACRES AND HAS MANY
NEW YORKERS WONDERING ABOUT
THEIR HOUSE.
JOINING US IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL
REPORTER, ABRAM, THANKS FOR
JOINING US, THANKS FOR TAKING
SOME TIME.
>> THANKS FOR HAVING ME.
>> WHAT IS IT THAT DREW YOU TO
THIS STORY?
>> WELL, I HAVE BEEN REPORTING
ON THE EPA FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS
AND THROUGH MY CONVERSATIONS
WITH SOURCES THERE SEVERAL YEARS
AGO WAS HEARING A LOT OF
FRUSTRATION OUT OF, THEY HAVE AN
OFFICE CALLED THE FEDERAL
FACILITIES ENFORCEMENT OFFICE.
AND HEARING A LOT OF FRUSTRATION
ABOUT THE DIFFICULTY THEY WERE
HAVING HOLDING OTHER FEDERAL
FACILITIES, WHICH THE MAJORITY
OF THEM ARE RUN BY THE
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE,
ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR
ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS.
THAT WAS JUST A STRING AND WE
HAVE BEEN PULLING ON IT EVER
SINCE, AND WE HAVE A LARGE
NUMBER, THOUSANDS OF
DISASTROUSLY CONTAMINATED SITES
OF ALL SORTS AND A NUMBER OF
CONSISTENT ISSUES THAT AROSE AND
IT WAS PLENTY OF FODDER TO
INVESTIGATE HOW THEY USE
CONTRACTORS TO DEFER LIABILITY,
HOW THEY AFFORD CLEANING UP, HOW
THEY LOBBY TO KEEP THE
ENFORCEMENT STANDARDS AS LOW AS
POSSIBLE AND PRETTY MUCH ANY
OTHER WAY OF AVOIDING
RESPONSIBILITY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL
CONTAMINATION.
>> YOU'VE HAD A LONG CAREER AS
AN ENVIRONMENT M REPORTER.
SO YOU'VE SEEN A LOT.
DID WHAT YOU SEE SURPRISE YOU AS
PART OF THIS INVESTIGATION?
>> SO, YOU KNOW, I HAVE SEEN A
LOT OF SITES THAT ARE HORRIBLY
CONTAMINATED AND MANY OF THEM
MUCH WORSE THAN SOME OF THE
DEFENSE SITES WE'RE SEEING IN
THESE PROJECTS.
WHAT'S ASTOUNDING WITH THIS
PROJECT IS THE SHEER NUMBER AND
THE SHEER SCOPE OF LAND THAT'S
AFFECTED AND THE COST OF
CLEANING IT UP.
SO 39,000 SITES ACROSS THE
COUNTRY, WE'RE ONLY LOOKING
DOMESTICALLY AND THE PROBLEM
GOES FAR BEYOND THAT, A TOTAL OF
40 MILLION ACRES.
IF YOU PUT ALL THAT LAND
TOGETHER, IT'S LARGER THAN THE
STATE OF FLORIDA.
AND THE A.MOUNT OF MONEY THE
PENTAGON'S ESTIMATING IS $70
BILLION, AS FAR AS SCALE, IT'S
LARGER THAN ANYTHING I HAVE EVER
LOOKED AT.
AND IT REALLY DWARFS ANY OTHER
34R
POLLUTER, INDUSTRY THAT I HAVE
REPORTED ON.
>> HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?
>> IT ESSENTIALLY HAPPENS AFTER
DECADES OF DEFENDING THE
COUNTRY, HAVING EXTENSIVE
INDUSTRIAL PROCESSES LIKE
DEVELOPING BOMBS, DEVELOPING
SORTS OF WEAPONS AND TESTING
THOSE ON LAND, AND ESPECIALLY IN
THE EARLY YEARS, LIKE MANY
INDUSTRIES NOT BEING
PARTICULARLY AWARE OF THE
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF THAT
WORK.
SO, YOU KNOW, THAT'S THE LONG
WAY OF SAYING THE PENTAGON WAS
BEHIND BEFORE IT REALLY REALIZED
THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM.
YOU HAD, SAY, FIVE, SIX DECADES
OF ACTIVITY AND IT WASN'T UNTIL
THE 1970s OR 1980s THAT THE
COUNTRY WAS AWARE OF
ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS ENOUGH TO
LIMIT NEW POLLUTION AND FICK OLD
POLLOLD
-- FIX OLD POLLUTION PROBLEMS.
SO THE HORSE WAS OUT OF THE BARN
SO TO SPEAK.
>> I SUSPECT IS THAT A NUMBER OF
OUR VIEWERS WILL BE LISTENING TO
THIS CONVERSATION AND SAY, WAIT
A MINUTE, DOESN'T THE EPA HAVE
REGULATIONS HERE, THAT WOULD
CONTROL WHAT'S BEING DONE, HOW
REGULARLY IT'S BEING DONE,
WHAT'S THE ANSWER TO THAT?
>> THERE ARE REGULATIONS THAT
APPLY.
AND ONE OF THE WAYS THAT THE
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE HAS PUSHED
BACK OVER THE YEARS HAS BEEN TO
LIMIT THE SCOPE AND THE
APPLICABILITY OF THOSE
REGULATIONS.
SO, YOU KNOW, SUPERFUND LAW AND
HAZARDOUS WASTE FUND STATUTES
DEFINITELY APPLY TO THE VAST
NUMBER OF MILITARY
INSTALLATIONS.
FOR A NUMBER OF YEAR THE
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE HAS
CLAIMED PROTECTION UNDER WHAT
THEY CALL SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY,
WHICH LIMITS HOW MUCH ONE
GOVERNMENT M AGENCY OR
ORGANIZATION CAN FINE ANOTHER.
SO THE EPA HAS AUTHORITY, BUT
NOT ONLY IS IT ALWAYS STRUGGLING
TO HANDLE THE ENVIRONMENTAL
PROBLEMS, BUT IT'S ALWAYS
PUSHING BACK AGAINST A HEADWIND
IN HANDLING THOSE AUTHORITIES IN
THE FIRST PLACE.
IT USUALLY WINS OUT IN THOSE
BATTLES, BUT MAKING IT MORE
DIFFICULT HAS THE EFFECT OF
SLOWING PROGRESS DOWN.
>> SO JUST HOW CONCERNED OR
INDEED HOW ALARMED SHOULD
COMMUNITIES BE WHEN THEY FIND
THEMSELVES VERY CLOSE TO ONE OF
THESE SITES ON THE MAP?
>> I THINK THAT ENTIRELY DEPENDS
ON THE NATURE OF THE SITE AND
THERE'S AN ENORMOUS VARIETY.
SO THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF SITES
ON THAT MAP THAT WE HAVE BEEN
REPORTING ON THAT ARE SOME OF
THE MOST HORRIBLY CONTAMINATED
SITES IN THE UNITED STATES.
MANY OF THEM ARE SUPERFUND
CONTAM
CONTAMINATIONS, THEY'RE LABELLED
AS HIGH RISK BY THE DEPARTMENT
OF DEFENSE AND YOU CAN RECOGNIZE
THEM ON THE MAP BECAUSE THEY'RE
THE MOST EXPENSIVE SITES TO
CLEAN UP.
THOSE SITES ARE THE ONES THAT
NEED TO BE CONCERNED.
PEOPLE WHO LIVE AROUND THEM
SHOULD BE AWARE THAT THOSE
POLLUTE TAANTS ARE THERE, THAT
CONTAMINATION IS GETTING INTO
THE WATER SUPPLIES AND THE FOOD
SUPPLIES.
IT'S SOMETHING THAT'S UNDER
REPORTED AND WORTH KNOWING
ABOUT.
OUT OF THOSE SITES, THERE'S
10,000 THAT ARE QUITE MINOR IN
NATURE AND HAVE BEEN CLEANED UP
OVER THE YEARS AND THEY CAN
RANGE FOR BEING IMPORTANT MORE
FOR THEIR HISTORICAL INTERESTS.
I HAVE DISCOVERED A NUMBER OF
SITES VERY CLOSE TO ME, FOR
EXAMPLE, THAT I DIDN'T KNOW
REPORTING ON THIS STORY.
AND I DON'T FIND THEM TO BE AN
EXTREME THREAT, BUT I'M
FASCINATED TO KNOW THAT, YOU
KNOW, IN WORLD WAR I IN MY
NEIGHBORHOOD, THERE WERE WEAPONS
ARSENALS, WHICH ARE LONG GONE
AND HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED OVER.
SO IT REALLY SPANS THE GAMUT AND
THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS WHY I
THINK THE DATA SET IS
INTERESTING IS THE
CLASSIFICATION FOR THE
VERYIFICATION OF THE HAZARD IS
RELATIVE TO THEIR OTHER PROJECTS
SO IT'S NOT A SUBJECTIVE
ESTIMATE OF HOW MUCH DANGER
YOU'RE IN, BUT WHERE THE SITE IS
IN THE CONTEXT OF ALL THE SITES
THEY ARE DEALING WITH.
>> IT WAS CERTAINLY VERY
IMPRESSIVE REPORTING.
WE APPRECIATE YOU TAKING SOME
TIME TO EXPLAIN THIS ALL TO US.
YOU TAKE CARE NOW.
>> THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR
INTEREST.