Transparency is key

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Transparency is key

After the report that U.S. Forces Korea buried a massive amount of Agent Orange at Camp Carroll in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang, Korea and the United States agreed yesterday to conduct a joint investigation into the case. As a result, both countries’ environmental experts, government officials, Chilgok representatives and other civic groups are expected to participate in on-site inspections that began today.

U.S. military authorities have been less than cooperative whenever tricky environmental issues crop up here, but this time they agreed to the investigation just three days after an uproar swept the country. USFK’s quick consent reflects the severity of the problem. Both sides should not leave any doubt behind by performing a thorough investigation to prevent more commotion and minimize any fallout.

It was a former USFK soldier, Steven House, who first exposed the incident to the U.S. media by admitting that he was involved in burying the toxic material at Camp Carroll. In a later interview with the Korean press, however, he argued that the total amount of Agent Orange dumped is twice as much as what had been known. He said the USFK first buried about 250 55-gallon drums of the defoliant that had been stored in a warehouse, and then buried a similar number of drums brought from other parts of the country on 15 to 20 occasions.

Considering the fact that Korea and the U.S. had conducted an operation to spray the toxic compound across an area near the DMZ - which is particularly susceptible to infiltration by the North Korean military - it is doubtful that illegal burying of Agent Orange took place in that camp alone.

The two countries’ agreement to confine the investigation to Camp Carroll may trigger further suspicion. They should be prepared for the possibility that the investigation will have to be extended to other U.S. bases. Whether the Korean military allowed the illicit dumping should also be investigated.

Dioxin, a main ingredient of Agent Orange, is a material with toxicity 10,000 times stronger than that of potassium cyanide, which is used in some suicides. If more than 100 tons of such a material has been buried only 650 meters (0.4 miles) away from a tributary of the Nakdong River for more than three decades, that’s utterly dire news. The only way to clear suspicion is to tell the truth through a complete investigation. Both allies must keep in mind that any effort to distort or cover up the truth will only exacerbate the situation.
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