When the soil and groundwater at the 8th U.S. Army headquarters on Yongsan Garrison in South Korea was found to be contaminated by benzene, further investigation was delayed as the U.S. Army prohibited access to the base.
However, now that the military headquarters are moving to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province after a 64-year deployment in South Korea, the investigation has been permitted to begin, according to the Korean Herald.
“We decided to conduct an investigation before the USFK completes its relocation by the year’s end,” said Kwon Ki-wook, chief of the city’s water circulation safety bureau, “because the source of the pollutants near the U.S. military base remains unknown, with some parts around the base remaining uninvestigated.”
Seoul City announced last week that it will begin testing soil and groundwater near the military base after a city government’s investigation last year revealed benzene contamination levels at 8.811 milligrams per liter – 587 times higher than the acceptable level. The cause of contamination could be a 2001 oil spill near Noksapyeong Station. Until now, the U.S. military has not allowed any city government or civic group investigation into possible contamination.
Benzene is a human carcinogen that has been linked to the development of leukemia and blood disorders such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia. It is a key ingredient in gasoline, and is usually the chemical of primary concern after an oil spill.
According to civic groups, the contamination is at even higher levels than the number reported. These groups shake a finger at the U.S. Army for not taking responsibility for the pollution within its own base.
Seoul City has already spent more than 7.8 billion won ($6.9 million) over the last decade attempting to clean up the pollution, and will likely have more work cut out for them following the Army base relocation. Once they’re gone, the city intends to turn the area in to a public park.
The city government plans to ask the USFK to join the investigation if the test results reveal levels of hazardous chemicals to be above average. The test results will be released in September.