The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are 40 million acres of land contaminated by military installations and its contractors in the U.S. — an area larger than Florida.
In Kansas and Missouri, there are 200 hazardous military installations — most with multiple hazardous sites — according to an explosive new series by ProPublica, “Bombs in Our Backyard.” Kansas has the 10th-highest number of ongoing medium- and high-risk sites in the country.
Past and future cleanup costs in Missouri and Kansas are estimated at more than $1.5 billion. More than $1 billion per year is spent to clean up contaminated sites in the U.S.
And military installations across the country have continued to burn hazardous materials — bullets, weapons parts, stockpile bombs — as a means of disposal, even after Congress banned the practice for American industries.
The burn exemption for the Department of Defense and its contractors means they are “today burning or detonating munitions or raw explosives in the open air, often in close proximity to schools, homes and water supplies,” ProPublica reported.
Its investigation is the first to map the entire country, marking all hazardous military installations. The map can be searched to determine if you live near any hazardous sites.
Fort Leavenworth has three high-risk sites with contaminated soil, one medium-risk site and has already run more than $45 million in cleanup costs.
The Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in Eudora, Kan., is expected to cost more than $150 million to clean, with an expected completion date of 2045.
The plant has the most high- and medium-risk sites in the state, with 55. Hazardous substances have contaminated surface water, groundwater and soil in the area.
Other plants in Kansas with at least 75 hazardous sites are: McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita (98) and Fort Riley (81). The Forbes installations near Topeka have 26 combined hazardous sites.
Fort Leonard Wood in the Ozarks has the highest number of risky sites in Missouri, with nine, including areas with unexploded munitions, a live mine demo area, a grenade range with unexploded munitions and landfills.
Its expected cleanup date is 2021 and is estimated to cost more than $50 million.
The Richards-Gebaur installation in Kansas City has 61 hazardous sites.
ProPublica reported the Pentagon’s annual environmental funding has been decreasing.
“I don’t think it (the issue) has been given the weight that the potential danger to the public warrants,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, whose district includes several sites.
Near one plant in Virginia that emits thousands of pounds of carcinogens into the air each year, Darlene Nester told ProPublica she can smell the odor from her home. Her granddaughter is in second grade at a nearby elementary school. “You think about all the kids.”