NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unexploded Bombs Pollute The Military's Public Lands

January 22, 1999

Those who think that smog is an environmental menace should consider the unexploded ammunition and surplus ordinance that litter former military sites around the country. The sites are often transferred to cities and towns for use as golf courses and recreation areas.

  • No one knows how much unexploded ordinance exists, but estimates developed by a Defense Department task force suggests that more than 15 million acres in the U.S. need to be surveyed for contamination.
  • Even if just 5 percent of that acreage needs cleaning up, costs could exceed $15 billion and take decades to complete using current technology.
  • These estimates do not include huge undersea areas that might be contaminated.
  • While reports of people being injured or killed by abandoned ordinance are rare, two boys were killed and another injured in 1983 when they started playing with a World War II-era shell they found in a San Diego subdivision built on a former military base.

Experts say public exposure to such dangerous objects is bound to increase as populations expand into once-remote training areas and post-Cold War base closings put increasing amounts of military land into civilian hands.

Source: Michael Orey, "At Former Military Sites, a Hidden Peril," Wall Street Journal, January 22, 1999.


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