CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Searchers look for depleted uranium shells fired during the 1960's at a Schofield Barracks firing range. Using a GPS, the two-man team, one carrying the equipment and the other leading the way, use a grid system to search a predetermined area.
Clearing the past
The Army will search in the Makua area for depleted uranium left over from weapons tests
The Army will continue to investigate whether weapons fired in the Makua Military Reservation contained depleted uranium, a key Pentagon official maintains.
Tad Davis -- deputy assistant Army secretary for environment, safety and occupational health -- said spotting rounds containing depleted uranium and fired during training in the 1960s have been detected at Schofield Barracks and the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area.
However, heavy vegetation at Makua hampered aerial surveys conducted in the Waianae Coast valley.
The Army and the state have already said that the small amounts of depleted uranium used on island training ranges don't threaten public health.
"We have not given up," Davis said. "In my view Makua continues to be part of the investigative process. ..."
Davis added: "Until we can either confirm it or disprove it, we will continue to treat it as if something possibly is there."
He said the next step will be to check the ground-water monitoring sites at Makua.
The suspected areas are where spotting rounds from the Davy Crockett weapons system were fired. Depleted uranium was used in the Davy Crockett as aiming rounds because its density matched the trajectory of the warhead. The Davy Crockett could fire a 75-pound nuclear projectile.
STAR-BULLETIN / JANUARY 2006
This is one of 15 depleted uranium tail assemblies found in a Schofield Barracks firing range. The assemblies are remnants from training rounds used in a 1960s weapons system.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of radioactive enriched uranium and has been used by the U.S. military in bullets and other weapons designed to pierce armor. Some researchers suspect exposure to depleted uranium may have caused chronic fatigue and other symptoms in veterans of the first Gulf War, but there is no conclusive evidence it has.
Kyle Kajihiro, program director of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker- affiliated social justice and peace organization, has called for independent analysis and oversight. "We don't have any confidence in their (the Army's) assessment that it's safe or that public health has been protected," Kajihiro said.
One of the indicators that aiming rounds containing depleted uranium were used at Pohakuloa and Schofield Barracks were the discoveries of 3- to 6-foot long gray cylinders. These cylinders were used to fire the rounds, the Army said.
The cylinders were found by a contractor in 2005 who had been hired to clear a Schofield Barracks firing range of unexploded ordnance and other debris. Similar cylinders were found this summer at Pohakuloa.
However, none has been detected in Makua Valley because of the heavy vegetation.
Davis said the Army has ruled out the use of the practice of "proscribed burns" where fires are deliberately set to rid an area of heavy shrubbery.
"The challenge you have using proscribed burns at Makua," Davis said, "is that you have the possible adverse impact on the cultural sites there and the fact that you have endangered plants there."
There also is a lot of unexploded ordnance in the suspected areas, Davis added.
Davis said by the end of next month, the Army will have completed its initial investigation into the extent and scope of the depleted uranium problem here.
Davis was in the islands last week to meet with the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board Wednesday night to brief it on the status of ridding the area of convention munitions that were dumped into the ocean.
Studies conducted last year revealed that more than 2,000 conventional or nonchemical weapons were found in the waters known as Ordnance Reef.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study found no immediate health dangers to the public in the sediment and fish found in the area. That study cost about $250,000.
But an additional $1 million may have to be spent to answer concerns raised by area residents about the safety of the limu, crab and other shellfish found in the area, Davis said,
While the study is being conducted, Davis said, the military will continue to explore ways to rid the area of the sunken ordnance.
At the same time, Davis said, there is a need to look at other activities in the area such as the Waianae waste-water treatment plant and run-off from industries in the area which may be factors in some of the health problems reported by area residents.
He said the Army is also working with the Navy in trying to determine the effect sea water has on munitions dumped into the ocean.
"How long does it take for the outer layers of these munitions to corrode?" is just one of the questions the Navy is trying to answer, Davis said.