With the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban immediately swarmed in and occupied the country’s main cities in just a few days. The end of the US’s two-year occupation not only created a worrying political situation; it also created an environment. Some of the military bases handed over by the United States to the Afghan National Security Forces — which stopped rather than continue to compete for the seemingly inevitable Taliban victory this month — hold toxic debris that may never be completely cleaned up.
The United States has operated some of these facilities for nearly 20 years. As part of the daily operations of these sites, the U.S. military and its allied partners generate waste, including substances that increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. These materials will seep into the ground, be exposed to uncovered landfills, and when certain items are incinerated, they will be dispersed into the air in the form of smoke particles, creating lasting environmental hazards in and around these sites .
An abandoned military base may produce less pollution than an active base—for example, uncovered burning pit debris causes less direct harm than burning waste that actively releases toxins. However, such bases still need a certain degree of environmental remediation before they can be safely converted to civilian use. In a 2017 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that the final cost of such cleanup at bases closed in the United States between 1988 and 2015 will be close to $15 billion.
These locations can leave a significant mark in their surroundings. For example, open incineration pits are often used to treat waste on-site.They are common in areas where the United States has fought, although the official Department of Defense Policy prohibits them “Except when no alternative disposal method is feasible.” This is because the burning of military materials-from food waste to paint, metal, plastic, medical and human waste, and sometimes unexploded ordnance-can produce “particulates”. Substances, lead, mercury, dioxins and irritating gases “contaminated toxic fumes, as outlined in a 2014 report by the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR). The report goes on to say that inhaling these pollutants “will negatively affect organs and body systems, such as the adrenal glands, lungs, liver, and stomach,” Cause conditions Including asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis.Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has Anticipate and track Judging from the relevant medical conditions deployed overseas since 2001, the health impact is almost not limited to military and police personnel.As the American Public Health Association It was stated in a 2015 statement, “Afghan citizens face the same or even greater risk of exposure to burning pit pollutants. Citizens of countries in these conflicts cannot leave as easily as occupying forces, and must deal with the environmental consequences of war.”
Combustion pits are mainly a source of hazards and are actively used to incinerate waste.But long-running or poorly managed burning pits in the United States are sometimes so polluted that they are designated as super fund sites Even after they were shut downAn official from the New York State Department of Environmental Protection said that the pollutants from the burning pit may include “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, metals such as lead and copper, or other compounds in the soil. If there are surface water bodies nearby, they may be present in the sediments. “(NYSDEC). It takes time to clear the burning pit, and it is difficult to do domestically—not to mention in a country now controlled by hostile forces.
Understanding the challenges of remediation outside of active theaters can illustrate the basic difficulties. E.g, A non-military cleanup In New York State, focus on burning pits used by industrial manufacturers. The process requires participants to monitor the contaminants in the groundwater and build up two feet of soil for passive purification of beneficial plants. “By placing a clean soil mulch in the area, long-term direct contact with humans can be prevented or reduced,” NYSDEC officials explained.But the restoration does not end with soil cover: for this particular burning pit, progress needs to be made Evaluate again next year, After about ten years of hard work. Like the site in New York State, Afghanistan’s long-running burning pits destroyed solvents (and various other wastes), which means they may face similar cleanup issues.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, if they infiltrate the environment in a military post, they will cause another lasting environmental hazard. These chemicalsIt has a wide range of uses, from non-stick pans to food wrappers, and is also found in the special fire extinguishing foams used to extinguish oil fires at many domestic and foreign bases in the United States. Contact PFAS Linked Symptoms such as increased cholesterol levels, decreased birth weight of babies, and increased risk of kidney cancer or testicular cancer.
Even in the United States, cleaning up the PFAS of military bases is a difficult process. One factor is that the actual remedial work of the Department of Defense has just begun.A sort of June 2021 report It was discovered by the Government Accountability Office that the Ministry of Defense “was in the early stage of the environmental restoration process in 687 or nearby. [domestic military] Known or suspected release “devices containing perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances contained in fire fighting foam”.
In the past few decades, better practices to reduce pollution have somewhat eased the situation in US bases. “The Department of Defense’s environmental remediation and compliance programs are quite mature. They really formed their own style in the 1990s and then grew up from there,” said John Conger, the former US Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Facilities and Environment. “As the Department of Defense has worked harder in its compliance program, it has reduced the amount of environmental pollution it has caused.” Despite these advances, some adaptation measures-such as a ban on incineration pits-have only been slowly adopted, not always Obeyed.
Due to legal barriers and the need for diplomacy with foreign governments, it has become more difficult to clean up military bases outside of the states and territories of the United States.For these areas, the United States can only fund the restoration of environmental hazards at its bases When they are in use: When the army withdraws from the base, a specific rule prohibits the Ministry of National Defense from directly spending money or using its resources “to meet the host country’s responsibilities under applicable international agreements.”
“There is a legal prohibition,” Conger said. “It prohibits the Ministry of National Defense from spending money on environmental remediation in other countries. So this is illegal [the DOD] Spend money on cleaning up. “A version of this rule was adopted in 1995 as part of the post-Cold War reorientation of the U.S. military on a global scale. It clearly states that the U.S. Funds can be provided for environmental remediation of host country bases-but unless bound by binding international agreements or approved clean-up plans, the Department of Defense will be prohibited from doing so on bases that it no longer occupies.Department Can share information However, please contact the host country to assist in the cleanup. Only a few years later, the Policy Research Institute asserted, “The Department of Defense takes advantage of this lack of clear obligations, Carry out absolute minimum environmental restoration In an overseas base. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, which is responsible for the maintenance, did not respond to a request for comment.
Due to legal and practical obstacles, even before the Taliban took over the country, it was not clear what kind of environmental remediation work would be carried out on the former US military bases in Afghanistan. Before the change of government, I asked the Afghan National Environmental Protection Agency what clean-up projects had taken place or planned on US military bases in Afghanistan, but received no answer. SIGAR declined to comment and instead pointed to the published report. As of press time, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Facilities and Environment has not yet responded to a request for comment. The UN Environment Programme’s Afghanistan project has been unable to weigh the dangers of military bases because it is helping to ensure the safety of employees during the Taliban’s takeover.
“When environmental damage occurs and the host country or local country No leverage or resources Demanding compensation or mitigation from the U.S. military? “Jennifer Neuhauser wrote in a 2015 paper as a judge advocate for the U.S. Army at the time. Since hostile forces now own these locations, the U.S. is unlikely to participate in the local cleanup. Just like Noy Hauser said in her paper, “According to international law, there are very few law enforcement mechanisms that can force the US military to solve these problems. “