[EDITORIALS]Uncle Polluter

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[EDITORIALS]Uncle Polluter

United States Forces Korea has accepted partial responsibility for leaking oil found at the Noksapyeong subway station in Seoul and said it would repair and compensate for the damage. That is a good sign in the year-long dispute between Korea and United States. But because the oil leaks continue, it is more imperative that authorities get to the ultimate cause of the leak and develop plans to prevent more.

When Korean authorities found in March 2001 that 10 liters of oil was leaking daily from a spot 100 meters toward Itaewon from Noksapyeong Station, fingers were pointed toward Yongsan Garrison. The U.S. authorities dug 22 wells on the base and found that oil was leaking from two sites, but they denied any direct link between the on-base leakage and the Noksapyeong Station leak. The U.S. still says that kerosene, which makes up most of the oil leaking in the area, may have trickled in from places other than the American base.

But one finding from the U.S. drilling is alarming. Analysis of the drill holes showed that not only soil, but the aquifer and rock bed 15 to 17 meters underground were contaminated. It cannot be only a coincidence that 7 to 10 liters of oil were found daily in April about 400 meters toward the Samgakji area from the initial site where oil seepage was found.

The area nearby where the United States Forces are stationed has been called a environmental disaster area; there have been frequent oil leaks there. Green Korea United, an environmental watch group, said that since 1990 there have been 21 discovered. Fourteen have occurred since 2000. There may have been other spills in the past that were hidden from the public.

Decrepit oil tanks and pipelines on the base and lax management can trigger frequent oil spills. Oil contamination of soil and aquifers involves heavy repair costs and has serious consequences. The U.S. government should pay more attention to improving its on-base oil facilities. The matter can no longer be overlooked or buried in silence. Korea and the United States need to deal with the problem more aggressively, for example by conducting a comprehensive review of the oil facilities on the U.S. base and setting up a system to gauge soil contamination.

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