Question: What part of the world was among the hardest hit during the Cold War, even though it was thousands of miles from the nearest battle?
Answer: Look out your window.During the past several decades - stretching back to World War II - Utah has been pelted by bombs. Military officials have dumped nerve agent, germs pesticides, organic compounds, chemical arms, mustard agent, radioactive dust and debris from nuclear melt-downs here. None of this is particularly surprising. The state is home to a large Air Force base and several other military installations. The deserts west of Salt Lake City have been used as training grounds time and again. In recent years, the federal government has admitted to above-ground tests of nuclear material in the state.
What is surprising, however, is how little the Defense Department seems to care about the mess it made. The department spends less than $85,000 per year to clean Utah. This despite a law that requires it to identify and clean any environmental contamination it has caused.
In a thorough and revealing report last Sunday, Deseret News reporter Joe Bauman detailed the problem statewide. What he found ought to make all state residents demand greater action from Washington. The U.S. government has spent much more to clean its overseas bases than it has to clean areas within an hour's drive from the Salt Lake metro area.
The extent of the problem remains unknown. Documents speak of 20 open-air, non-nuclear explosions that released radioactive dust, 328 open-air germ warfare tests and 1,174 open-air tests of chemical weapons. But no one knows for sure the extent of contamination all this caused.
In some places, such as Hill Air Force Base, Defense Depot Ogden and Tooele Army Depot, much cleanup work already has been done. But much more remains, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Defense Department would do well to stop treating the problem as if it doesn't exist.
The delays could endanger the sale or privatization of some military facilities. More importantly, they pose a danger to all living things in the area.