21 Nov 2013
- By Junhan B. Todiño - firstname.lastname@example.org - Variety News Staff
PAGAN island development planner Herman B. Cabrera, a local architect, has expressed concern over the impact on health and the environment if the U.S. military uses the volcanic island for live-fire training and related activities.
He said after World War II, the military left behind unexploded ordinance, oil, tar, fuel drums, polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs and other poisonous and toxic pollutants.
The military also left millions of gallons of fuel in tanks all over the southwestern part of Saipan without any mitigation plans for proper disposal, he added.
“A lot of junk was left here without warning to the local residents that it was dangerous to touch or get near it,” he said, as he cited what happened with Puerto Rico dump site which the military used as a disposal area and which later became a public health hazard.
He said the affected Puerto Rico area still contains lots of contaminants and even the military does not know what toxic materials are there.
“The local people do not want to fish around that area because we are afraid of what impurities those fish may have been exposed to,” Cabrera said.
The white sand beach to the south of Puerto Rico dump eventually turned purple-black and now the place smells horrible, he added.
The former Puerto Rico dump remains a toxic site, he said.
“It has harmful waste materials and we have yet to hear from the military as to when they will come and properly clean up and dispose of the toxic waste there.”
Cabrera said pollutants such as lead, mercury, phosphorus, asbestos fibers and PCBs, when left in the open will seep through the ground and into the aquifer.
The water used by people to brush their teeth, wash their face and even drink are from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. whose supplies come from some of those areas which many believe are contaminated areas.
He said military activities, if allowed on Pagan, will gradually contaminate the water around the islands and have a strong negative environmental impact on all sea life in CNMI waters.
“Bombing activities will have a significant and harmful impact on our marine life such as the fragile plankton. Plankton is a microscopic animal that lives on the surface and underwater and they can easily be destroyed. Plankton is an important part of the marine life in the ocean. Once these microscopic animals are destroyed, pelagic and all other fish in the CNMI waters will be greatly diminished,” Cabrera said.
Bombing activities will prevent people from entering areas within 12 miles of the firing and bombing zones, he added
“We will be forbidden to go to our northern fishing grounds. This will limit my community’s fishing capability and will have a significant impact on our fishing industry which will limit economic growth in the CNMI.”
Cabrera, who has obtained a one-year temporary permit to develop certain areas on Pagan, said his travel industry group, in collaboration with the Guam tourism industry, is now promoting international cruise-ship visits to the Mariana Islands.
The proposed military firing and bombing in Marianas waters will definitely impact CNMI tourism, he said.
He said the middle part of Farallon De Medenilla, an island about 45 miles north of Saipan, is almost “gone” after decades of U.S. military bombardment.
The destruction is far too great and the water around the island is contaminated, he added.
According to Cabrera, a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that Guam waters were contaminated 20 percent more than the waters of Saipan.
“But I believe that the water around FDM is far more contaminated than Guam. The pelagic fish that travel through FDM waters are contaminated. We catch and eat these contaminated fish. Based on [Commonwealth Health Center] records people of the Marianas are dying of cancer practically every week.”
He said the situation is “alarming and most evidence points to the contamination left by the military.”
More military exercises will only cause more pain and more suffering in the Marianas, he added.
“Our ancestors survived for centuries here in the Mariana Islands and lived to tell their children the tale of our naturally healthy ocean environment and the abundance of marine recourses in the ocean that they used as their main food source,” he said.
“The vast blue water of the Pacific Ocean still has lots of different kinds of marine life, including that around our islands in the CNMI from Rota to Farallon De Pajaros — fish were and still are part of the people’s healthy natural diet.”
The ocean remains one of the few sources of livelihood for the local people, he added.