Air Force sued over plan to recommence burning of waste munitions on Guam

A U.S. military plane is pictured on the tarmac of Andersen Air Force base during a media tour, on the island of Guam, a U.S. Pacific Territory, August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joseph Campbell
  • Plaintiff says risks of polluting important aquifer need environmental assessment
  • Aquifer provides drinking water to 80% of Guam's population

(Reuters) - A community group represented by Earthjustice has sued the U.S. Air Force in Hagatna, Guam federal court over plans to burn and detonate 35,000 pounds of hazardous waste munitions yearly without first studying the risks of contaminating an aquifer that supplies 80% of the island territory's drinking water.

Guam-based Prutehi Litekyan accused the Air Force Tuesday of failing to consider less-environmentally damaging ways to destroy the obsolete or excess munitions at a site located on Tarague Beach at the Andersen Air Force Base when applying in May for a permit to continue the open-air detonations and restart the burning.

The Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Prutehi Litekyan says the Air Force failed to study how the proposed operation could contaminate an aquifer beneath the disposal site, violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

The plaintiffs also say that the site sits on the ancestral land of Guam's CHamoru people, who continue to use the adjacent ocean for fishing.

The Air Force has been detonating waste munitions on bare sand at the same site since the early 1980s, but it stopped open-burning in 2002, the complaint says.

Burning and blowing up the waste munitions releases toxic chemicals including RDX and perchlorate, which could percolate through the sand and reach the aquifer, said David Henkin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The Department of Defense, which oversees the Air Force, uses open burning and open detonation methods to eliminate waste military munitions across 20 states and Guam, according to its Office of Inspector General.

The case is Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian v. United States Department of the Air Force, District Court of Guam, No. 1:22-cv-00001.

For Prutehi Litekyan: David Henkin of Earthjustice

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