The U.S. Department of Defense remains to be the nation’s and the world’s biggest polluter, producing 750,000 tons of toxic waste annually. This rate was higher than the toxic waste generated by five of the largest chemical companies combined. According to experts, the Pentagon’s hazardous pollution trail came in forms of depleted uranium, oil, and jet fuels as well as pesticides, defoliants such as Agent Orange and lead, and other chemicals.
In 2014 alone, a Pentagon official divulged that the agency’s environmental office had to deal with 39,000 contaminated areas spread across 19 million acres across the country. Both domestic and international military bases governed by the Pentagon consistently made it to the list of the most polluted places in the world, largely due to traces of perchlorate and other jet and rocket fuel components that contaminate the soil, aquifers, and sources of potable water. In fact, hundreds of U.S. military bases were included on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s list of Superfund sites. The list indicates places that qualify for clean-up grants from the federal government.
According to the EPA’s list, almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites across the country are abandoned military facilities or locations that were used to support military needs. One such base, Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was held accountable for the contamination of the area’s groundwater. The military base was deemed responsible for dumping a large amount of carcinogens in the the groundwater between 1953 and 1987. However, it was only in February this year that the federal government allowed affected individuals to file for official compensation claims.
The Pentagon’s testing and use of high-powered nuclear weapons has also became a key contributor to the global pollution. The U.S. was found to conduct more nuclear weapons test than all the other countries combined, which in turn made the country accountable for excessive radiation that continues to persist in many islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Marshall Islands, for instance, endured more than sixty nuclear weapons tests between 1946 and 1958. Residents of the Pacific island and its neighbor Guam continue to show incredibly high rates of cancer. U.S. military bases have also been held responsible for the contamination of Navajo Indian reservations in the American Southwest, largely due to long-abandoned uranium mines that were once managed by U.S. military contractors. Fossil fuel use has also greatly contributed to the worsening environmental damage worldwide. A USA Today report showed that the U.S. military was the country’s consumer of fossil fuels, using 20.9 bn liters of fuel each year. To put that into perspective, the U.S. military’s annual fossil fuel use was equivalent to carbon emissions of Denmark.
Wars that have erupted within the last few decades have also played a key role in the global pollution. During the first gulf war, the U.S. bombarded Iraq with up to 340 tonnes of missiles containing depleted uranium. The U.S. was also held responsible for the desertification of 90 percent of Iraqi territory. On the other hand, the Rwandan civil war has caused extensive damage to the country’s forest lands. During the war, 1,000 tonnes of wood was removed from a protected park everyday for two years for construction, firewood and charcoal.
“The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict. From the contamination of land and the destruction of forests to the plunder of natural resources and the collapse of management systems, the environmental consequences of war are often widespread and devastating. Let us reaffirm our commitment to protect the environment from the impacts of war, and to prevent future conflicts over natural resources,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said during the organization’s International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict in 2014.