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Case Number: 31
Case Mnemonic: SUBIC
Case Title: Toxic Wester in the U.S. Base in Subic
Case Author: Misa Kemmiya, Summer 1997


1. Abstract

Toxic waste found at military bases around the world have often spread to the surrounding communities and threatened the public health as well as the environment of the affected areas. Subic, the largest U.S. Naval base outside the U.S., is such a case that needs cleanup because of past dumping of hazardous waste, leaking underground storage tanks, toxic spills and other environmental harmful practices. However, exactly who is responsible for this clean up remains unclear. And as such, comprehensive clean up has even not begun.

2. Description


Subic Bay is now seen as a model for converted military bases worldwide. Declared the Philippine's first free port soon after the last U.S. servicemen departed in November 1992, it is home to a thriving light industry enclave and is a tourist spot with total annual exports expected at the $2 billion level for 1997 and 1998.

Behind these favorable views to Subic Bay, however, toxic waste left by the U.S. military in Subic was confirmed by several reports filed by the U.S. military, World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) since 1991. Despite these reports, cleanup processes remain an elusive goal.


Since 1990, NGOs both in the Philippines and the U.S., independent scientists and the GAO of the U.S. Congress have raised concerns about environmental problems at the U.S. Subic Base.

Before the closure of Subic Naval Base and other U.S. bases, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has released two sets of documents regarding toxic presence in their bases in the Philippines. A U.S.GAO report identified significant environmental damage of Superfund (Superfund sites refer to the most contaminated sites in the U.S.) proportions at Subic with a history of toxic dumping, accidental spills and environmentally destructive practices. An evaluation by U.S.-based scientists concluded that these sites pose a serious threat to public health and the environment of surrounding communities.

After almost a century of permanent U.S. military presence in the Philippines ended, the environmental problems in Subic Bay was confirmed by a WHO site evaluation report on Subic commissioned by the Environmental Management Bureau as well as other independent studies in 1993 (see Relevant Literature)

In 1993, pressures from NGOs and some governmental officers forced the Pentagon to release to the Philippines government two reports completed, which had never made available to the Philippines. Almost at the same time, the U.S. government stated publicly that it was willing to provide further information and technical assistance to assess potential contamination sites, upon request by the Philippines government.

In 1994, the World Bank approved a $40 million infrastructure and capacity building loan to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). Of that amount, $650,000 was allocated to conduct an environmental baseland survey for Subic.

The issue of toxic cleanup was taken up briefly by Presidents Clinton and Ramos in November 1994, just before the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Jakarta. However, President Clinton denied that there was any evidence of environmental problems despite the fact that much of the evidence to the contrary came from U.S.GAO and Pentagon documents (see resources).

The Pentagon released its latest policy on toxic contamination at overseas bases in 1993. It states that the U.S. government imposes on host nations the costs and risks of cleaning up toxic sites discovered after bases have been turned over to host countries. Moreover, the policy commits only to the clean-up of sites selectively determined by Defense Department to pose "imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and safety. In response to this policy, American and Philippine NGOs criticized it as "irresponsible, arrogant and inconsistent with basic environmental principle" and have requested polluter, namely the U.S. military, to bear the burden for cleanup.

According to the U.S. official source in 1997, it is the Philippine government who has to decide whether or not it would ask the U.S. government to help the cleanup. Therefore, cleanup may not have to do with the U.S. government. The most controversial in the point is who will share the burden of cleanup activities. The cleanup of hazardous waste and toxic contamination can be an expensive process. Numerous environmental samples may have to be obtained and costly chemical analyses conducted to determine the extent of contamination. Specific cleanup technologies have large capital costs. The Philippines has neither technical nor financial resources to conduct a comprehensive assessment and cleanup of the baselands. In addition to these unclear responsibilities, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has denied the NGOs' assertion that the water supply of the Subic Bay Free Port was seriously contaminated. With these various positions on the presence and impact of toxic waste and cleanup responsibilities, comprehensive assessment and cleanup seems to be still a long way off.

Toxic Waste in Military Bases

Toxic waste has been generated through military activities such as the production, testing, cleaning, maintenance and use of weapons, explosives, aircraft, and naval vessels as well as storage, and distribution of petroleum, oil and lubricant. Toxic waste includes toxic solvents, oil, greases, sledges, acids, alkalis, fuels, nitrates, heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), dioxin, cyanides, pesticides, unexploded ordnance and nuclear waste. These toxic substances can spread in numerous ways through air, soil and water.

Toxic Facts at Subic

Aside from oil and grease, Subic has 14 known contaminated and 12 potentially contaminated sites. The Pentagon documents revealed that;

Threats to Public Health and the Environment

Many toxic chemicals identified at Subic tend to spread off-base and contaminate groundwater used for drinking. They can also contaminate rivers and bays, concentrating in fish, shellfish and other marine life which are food sources for surrounding communities. Workers can be exposed to toxic substances in soil or in buildings by skin contact. Other dangerous materials, such as asbestos and volatile compounds released into the air, can be inhaled by the residents.

Long-term exposure to minute concentrations of these toxic substances may have significant health effects. For instance, asbestos cause cancers and fatal lung diseases. Many of the industrial solvents used at the base are suspected of causing cancer, as well as damaging the liver, kidneys and other organs.

However, the decisive data about quantity and impact of such toxic have not been come out due to no comprehensive assessment. Even if quantity is identified, it is difficult to determine if and how much have been exposed to over a period of time in the past. Moreover, it needs long time to find out some symptoms such as birth defects.

3. Duration: In Progress (1991-now)

Despite several documents by U.S. GAO, NGOs and WHO, there has been neither comprehensive cleanup activity nor even consensus on the risk of toxic waste itself in Subic. Negotiation on the cleanup responsibility has been undergoing collaboratively between the U.S. and the Philippines government, according to the U.S. official source. However, both U.S. and Philippine's NGOs has insisted that no progress had been witnessed so far and been developing international campaign to urge the U.S. and the Philippine government to cleanup.

Conflict Time Line
The issue of toxic waste identified by NGOs both in the Philippines and the U.S.

H1 Pacific Air Force document reported environmental damage at Air force base in the Philippines.

Department of Defense document identified significant environmental damage.

November 1992
The closure of Subic Naval Base and other U.S. bases in the Philippines.

The environmental problem was confirmed by a WHO site evaluation report on Subic commissioned by the Environmental Management Bureau.

The U.S. government stated publicly that it was willing to provide further information and technical assistance to assess potential contamination sites, upon request by the Philippines government.
The World Bank approved a $40 million infrastructure and capacity building loan to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). Of that amount, $650,000 were allocated to conduct an environmental baseland survey for Subic.

November 1994
The issue of toxic cleanup was taken up briefly by Presidents Clinton and Ramos.

The Pentagon released a new policy on toxic contamination at overseas bases which imposes on host nations and their people the costs and risks of cleaning up toxic sites discovered after bases have been turned over to host countries.

The SBMA has denied that the water supply of the Subic Bay Free Port is seriously contaminated

NGOs Forum on APEC proposed a resolution calling on the U.S. to meet its environmental responsibility.

4. Location

Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Country: Philippines

Subic naval base, formerly known as one of the largest American naval bases outside the US, was strategically located near international shipping lanes in the South China Sea and 120 kilometers north of Manila. Subic Bay comprises a large protected natural harbor surrounded by hills, forest and white sandy beaches. Since 1990, NGOs from the Philippines and the U.S. have claimed that the past and on-going military activities around Subic Bay produced toxic waste that was seldom appropriately treated. Their activities to urge cleanup widespread in the U.S., the Philippines and other areas through a toxic waste coalition.

At the same time, the former naval base has undergone an extensive redevelopment since the Seventh Fleet moved out in 1992, and now provides a mix of high grade industrial, commercial and tourist facilities and housing. As such, Subic Bay is a centerpiece of the Philippines' drive towards newly industrialized economy status by the year 2000.

5. Actors: Philippines and USA

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Pollution Land

Surface water, such as rivers, streams and the ocean, has been convenient dump for toxic waste. Different toxic contaminants in the water can be transported by water flow to communities. Depending on the chemical properties of the waste and the environmental conditions, toxic complainants can pollute and volatilize air. They also simply stay on the soil.

Moreover, toxic contamination involves the release of toxic chemicals and their subsequent migration to different environmental media. Toxic waste can adversely disrupt the ecosystem, overwhelming natural restrictive processes, destroying habitats. For instance, PCBs observed in Subic are known to be highly sorbed in soil and insoluble in water. They are very persistent in the environment and bioconcentrated from soil or sediments by organisms and move up the food chain. PCBs interfere with reproduction in wildlife and experimental animals. Given the fact that local people in Subic largely rely on sea food, contaminated fish and shell may impact on their health.

7. Type of Habitat: Tropical

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

USA            Philippines         US  Waste Pollution

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Interstate

In 1994, Philippine NGOs and community groups launched the Task Force for Bases Cleanup. The U.S. Working Group for Philippines Bases Cleanup (USWG) was formed in Washington, D.C. as well. These groups insisted that the U.S. government must take moral responsibility for its toxic legacy in the Philippines and provide financial and technical assistance toward cleanup of the baselands. They have collected signature for petition to President Clinton and the Congress and held the International Forum on U.S. Military Toxic and Bases Clean-up in November 1996 in Subic, just after the APEC Summit. At that time, Clinton and Ramos agreed to take action together to cleanup toxic waste, though real action remain done.

Subic Bay Free Trade Zone

The issue is complicated in that Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority

From the U.S. standpoint, the responsibility of cleanup in Subic legally passes to the Philippines government after its complete withdrawal. U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines stressed that the U.S. military cleaned up Subic at cost of $6 million before its withdrawal and no hazardous waste, therefore, was left behind. As one of the grounds of the U.S. Navy stewardship over the facility responsibilities, the U.S. Navy was able to preserve 5,000 acres of virgin forest and maintain 10,000 areas of forested areas. Yet, the Philippines government and SBMA tend to focus on economic development rather than cleanup. Specifically, Subic is now seen as a face of Philippine's successful economic development, the government and SBMA want to clean and attractive image of Subic. Furthermore, little significant and immediate toxic impacts on humans and the environment due to a long period, low dose exposures make cleanup activities less priority on their agenda. More to the point, the Philippine government prefers a favorable political and economic relationship with the U.S. government as a key to its economic development over the risk of toxic contaminants around Subic. Since the Philippines government has invited the U.S. military back to the Philippines, it is increasingly unlikely that Manila will urge U.S. military to cleanup Subic.

The NGOs asserted that a basic environmental principle is that the polluter pay and an environmental justice principle affirms that poor communities should not bear the burden for environmental destruction caused by others. Another issue that caused this conflict lies in the different environmental standards between countries. Environmental regulations and enforcement in the Philippines may not be able to provide guidance on the cleanup or the appropriate level of cleanup. The question arises who will determine these levels and how will they be defined. An overriding problem may be the lack of technical capacity in developing countries.

In response to these claims, the U.S. government insisted that most of the issues stem from the Philippines domestic policy, and are not relevant to responsibility of the U.S. government. As a result, no agencies that potentially have responsibility and ability to cleanup are involved in any comprehensive cleanup so far.

10. Level of Conflict: Warharm

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: 0

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Indirect

The toxic waste by the U.S. Subic military base has direct impact on the environment. Toxic substance can contaminate the environment and threaten human health in a number of ways: through direct contact, inhalation and ingestion of contaminated foods and water. Long-term, low level exposures, as well as intense single exposure to these toxic substances may not only result in such diseases like cancer but also cause birth defects, miscarriages and mental retardation. The longer the delay in cleaning up toxic sites is, the greater the extent of contaminant migration and the more difficult and costly it becomes to clean them up.

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Bilateral

14. Outcome of Dispute: Compromise

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

ICE Cases


16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Relevant Literature

Cramer, D. and R. Graham, "Mission Report: Subic Bay environmental risk assessment and investigation program," WHO report, 1993.

Emmanuel, Jorge, "Cleaning Up Toxic Waste in the Asian Pacific Region," Conference Paper at the APEC NGO Forum, the Phillipines, November 1996.

North California Working Group, "Fact Sheet: Toxic and Hazardous Waste at Former U.S. Military Bases in the Phillipines," 1996.

GAO, "Military Base Closures: U.S. Financial Obligations in the Philippines," GAO/NSIAD-92-51, January 1992.

HQ Pacific Air Force, "Environmental Review of the Drawdown Activities at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines," 1991.

Shettler, T, at al., "An Environmental and Health Impact Report on Known and Potentially Contaminated Sites at Former U.S. Military Bases in the Philippines," August, 1994.

Shettler, T, "Reverberations of Militarism: Toxic Contamination, the Environment, and Health," Medicine & Global Survival, 2 (1): March 1995.

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, "The Philippines: Toxic and Hazardous Waste at Former U.S. Military Bases," UUSC, Cambridge, MA, December 1993.

December, 1997