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Air Force Ordered to Clean up McGuire
Associated Press  |  July 14, 2007
TRENTON, N.J. - Federal environmental officials have ordered the U.S. military to clean up PCBs, pesticides, metals and other contaminants at McGuire Air Force Base.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrative order, issued Friday, requires the Air Force to submit a plan, including a schedule, to remove the contaminants left at 41 areas on the 5 1/2-square-mile base during its more than half a century of operations.

The EPA was forced to issue the order because it was unable reach a satisfactory agreement with the Air Force to clean up the base, according to EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg.

"It's absolutely essential that all facilities, whether public or private sector, have to be treated alike," Steinberg said.

According to the text of the order, "Past and present handling, storage and disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste at the facility may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and/or the environment."

The Air Force said in a statement that it "takes its environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously," and that it would work with the EPA to resolve its concerns.

The administrative order gives the Air Force a chance to confer with the EPA before the order goes into effect. It starts a process that often takes years before actual cleanup takes place.

"We hope it gets cleaned up sooner rather than later," Steinberg said. "I hope it doesn't take too many years."

The air base, about 28 miles east of Philadelphia, was started by the U.S. Army in 1937. In 1949, two years after the Air Force became a separate service, the base was renamed McGuire Air Force Base.

The base airlifted troops and supplies during World War II and following wars, played an important role in air defense during the Cold War, and remains a major military airlift port on the East Coast.

But over the years, contaminants have built up in soil, sediment, surface water and ground water at the base, according to the EPA.

The Air Force started studying the problem in 1982. The McGuire Air Force base area was added the federal Superfund list, the EPA's list of most hazardous sites, in 1999.

Contaminants identified at the base include PCBs, pesticides, volatile compounds, metals, petroleum, and jet fuel products, according to the EPA.

Areas that need cleanup include landfills, fire training areas, pesticide mixing shops, fuel storage and leak areas, underground tanks and fuel lines, a PCB spill site, and a wastewater treatment plant sludge disposal area.

New Jersey's two U.S. senators - Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez - commended the EPA for ordering a cleanup.

"Polluters must be held accountable for their actions, regardless of whether they are a major corporation or a branch of the armed services," Lautenberg said.

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