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1998 News Releases



Release Date: 8/13/1998
Contact Information: Randy Wittorp, U.S. EPA, (415) 744-1589

     (San Francisco)--The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) today announced that it has approved modification of a U.S. Army permit for the creation of a temporary storage area at the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS) on Johnston Island, located about 800 miles southwest of Hawaii. The action will allow the transfer of about 50,000 gallons of hazardous wastewater currently stored in old corroded containers into safer double-walled containers.

     "Improving the waste storage facilities will provide better environmental protection on the island," said Julie Anderson, U.S. EPA's Waste Management  Division director. "We support the Army's decision to do this now before a spill could occur that would endanger public health or the environment."  

     Prior to EPA approval, there was not enough permitted storage area at JACADS to house both the new and old containers. The Army will be able to use the new storage area for up to 180 days to transfer the wastewater from the old corroding containers to more secure vessels. The old wastewater containers originally came from Okinawa, Japan. The Army has stored them outside on Johnston Island since 1971. EPA was concerned that without action the old containers would have degraded and begun leaking their contents.

     According to the Army, about half of this wastewater will remain on Johnston Island to be treated. The Army plans to ship the remaining wastewater -- which does not contain nerve gas -- off the island to a yet to be determined facility. This water contains heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. A few of the containers have trace amounts of mustard (a chlorine based chemical) at levels that would pose no human health risk in the event of a spill.

     The heavy metal waste must be shipped off the island because JACADS cannot incinerate heavy metals. No weapons or nerve agent will be shipped off-island as a result of  this modification. Federal law prohibits transportation of additional chemical weapons to or from the atoll.  

     Since 1990, the Army has destroyed all of the rockets and bombs and in the process more than three-quarters of the four million pounds of agent originally stored on the island. There are still over 160,000 projectiles and 13,000 land mines left to destroy. The JACADS facility is designed to disassemble and incinerate chemical weapons containing nerve agent, and blister agent, known as mustard.  The Army expects to finish destroying the remaining chemical weapons on the island during the year 2000.