The brunt of war in the 20th and early 21st centuries has
shifted from combatant soldiers to civilians due to more powerful war weapons,
war intensity, and war tactics. By the 1990s, 90 percent of those who died in
war were civilians, and the majority were women and children. For the same
reasons, the impact of war and militarism on nature and the lived environment
follows a similar pattern. One Vietnam veteran described the rain of death in
the Vietnam War - bombs, mortars, napalm, and chemical warfare -- as a war
against the environment, creating 20 million bomb craters and reducing the
Earth to ashes. The first three weeks of the 2003 war in Iraq, according to
Barry Sanders in his eye-opening book on military pollution, The Green Zone,
used the amount of fuel that 80,000 Americans would use for a years worth of
driving, or 40 million gallons.
military enterprise as a whole is hyper-privileged, secretive, and un-touchable
when it comes to budget, international law, and environmental protection. By
contrast, environmental health policy on toxics has moved from targeting one
toxic substance at a time to toxics reduction, healthcare without harm, clean
technology, green housing, pollution prevention, and the Precautionary
Principle. We need a comparable leap in policy that addresses our countrys
heightened defense spending, trafficking in arms, and global military power
projection. Why? Given the scale of the military-industrial complex and the
nearly 1,000 military bases colonizing the world, the U.S. military is the
largest single polluter on the planet.
the late 1980s, public data revealed that the Pentagon was generating
a ton of toxic waste per minute, more toxic waste than the five largest U.S.
chemical companies together, making it the largest polluter in the United
States. According to the 2008-2009
Presidents Cancer Panel Report, nearly 900 of EPAs approximately 1300
Superfund sites are abandoned military bases/ facilities or manufacturing
and testing sites that produced conventional weapons and other military-related
products and services. (And what of the nearly 1000 bases worldwide where our
military is not held to current U.S. standards of environmental protection?)
1994, nearly 5,000 contaminated sites at DOE nuclear weapons and fuel facilities
had been identified for remediation. The now-closed Hanford
nuclear weapons facility which recycled uranium and extracted plutonium, is
the largest nuclear waste storage site in the country and may be the worlds
largest environmental cleanup site. The waste on the 600 acre site includes
nearly five tons of plutonium and more than 53 million gallons of
plutonium-contaminated waste in underground tanks, much of which is leaking into
groundwater adjacent to the Columbia River, a regional source of salmon,
agricultural irrigation, and drinking water supply.
- A 1992
National Cancer Institute (NCI) study determined that about 150 million
curies of radioactive iodine was released into the atmosphere during open-air
testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada from the early 1950s to the early 1960s.
The fallout contaminated dairy cattle feed and the nations milk supply. As a
result, millions of children and adults were contaminated with radioactive
iodine, a fact kept secret by the federal government. NCI suppressed the 1992
study findings for five years and admitted in testimony before Congress, that
the radioactive iodine may have caused an excess of 212,000 thyroid cancers,
which cancer can have a latency period as long as 38 years.
- Between 2002 and 2008 approximately 400
facilities and 15,000 people were handling biological weapons agents in sites
throughout the country, in many cases unbeknownst to the local community. The
rush to spend more than $57 billion since 2002 on bioterrorism research has
raised many grave concerns, among these the militarization of biodefense
research with the risk of a biological arms race. In March 2005, 750 top
microbiologists, comprising over 50 percent of scientists studying bacterial
and fungal diseases, wrote the NIH to argue that the agencys emphasis on
biodefense research had diverted research away from germs that cause more
significant disease. Between 1998 and 2005, grants for biodefense research
increased 15-fold. During the same period, grants to support non-biodefense
germs that cause major sickness and death (such as TB resistant microbes and
influenza) dropped 27 percent.
uranium (DU), the waste product of the uranium enrichment process, is used
by the U.S. and other militaries in both defensive armor and armor piercing
ammunition that is known as DU penetrators. DU was used in the Gulf War, the war
in the Balkans and is likely being used in the war in Afghanistan. Available
information suggests that the U.S. and British forces released between 110-165
tons of DU in that in the 2003 war in Iraq.
and civilians in war and post-war situations are at risk of internal and
external exposure to DU through inhalation, ingestion of DU particles, and skin
exposure. A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found very high soil
contamination and groundwater contamination in the Balkans. A journalistic
report on Iraqi children working to support their families revealed that the
children are sorting through blasted Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles,
stockpiled in scrap yards by U.S. military contractors, in order to salvage
metal parts to sell to metal dealers a likely source of high level exposure
for the children. Animal and in vitro studies have found that DU may be
genotoxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic, signaling serious concern for the fate of
DU in the human body. Thus, the decision to use DU in weapons has been made in
an environment of uncertainty about the health impacts on those exposed in
conflict and post-conflict situations. DU exposure in and post-war adds
long-term radiation and chemical exposure to the already existing risks of
death, injury, and environmental damage from war.
- Author Barry Sanders estimates the U.S.
militarys armored vehicles, planes and luxury planes consume one-quarter of
the worlds jet fuel and close to two million reported gallons of oil every
day. By his calculation, our. military contributes 5 percent to world global
warming. Worldwatch researcher Michael Renner estimated in 1989 that the
military industrial complex consumed almost double the oil equivalent energy as
the U.S. military. Thus the entire military enterprise is far and away the
largest single climate polluter and contributor to global
a study group to read The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of
letters to editor, column for newsletters, op-eds on environmental costs of war
- Support environmental health organizations
taking on these issues.
the film Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives in public forums for discussion.
Organize a Bring Our War Dollars Home initiative in your town/city. Click here
for more information.
Alice and Lincoln. 2009. Scarred Lands & Wounded Lives: The Environmental
Footprint of War. Fund for Sustainable Tomorrows.
Sanders, Barry. 2009. The Green Zone: The
Environmental Costs of Militarism. Oakland, CA: AK
Pat Hynes retired as Professor of
Environmental Health and chairs the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and
Times/Tiempo de Guerras
P.O. Box 22748 | Oakland, CA 94609