The leaking of an environmental report into the Manus Island detention centre (The Guardian 4 Feb, 2014) reveals additional risk to the health and well being of people seeking asylum. Military bases leave a legacy of water and land pollution that can poison inhabitants for decades.
Manus Island has a long history of military occupation and use as base, including the Australian, United states, Japanese and British Military. Unexploded ordnance, fuel storage and the use of military chemicals are known pollutants affecting human health worldwide. It is likely that, without any kind of remediation, pollutants have leaked into the soil and air of Manus Island putting detainees, military and Manus Island inhabitants at risk.
In a 2013 report US bases: the social and environmental risks, FoE researcher and military spokesperson Kim Stewart lists the contaminants commonly left behind by military occupation. They include:
· Perchlorate, the primary ingredient in rocket fuel, known to be contaminating groundwater in 42 US states and numerous bases worldwide. Linked to birth defects and thyroid problems;
· White phosphorus, a particularly cruel form of weapon that not only burns the skin of people it touches (like napalm), it also poisons them;
· TNT, RDX and other explosives, linked to cancer and CNS problems;
· Mercury and lead, bio-accumulating heavy metals known to cause neurological problems,
heart problems, even death;
· Depleted uranium and plutonium, leading to cancers and deaths;
Careless storage and disposal of military materials has lead to hundreds of leaking drums, pipelines, underground storage tanks, landfills and contaminated buildings worldwide, including Australia. Manus Island will be no exception.
The Abbott government has a responsibility under the international human rights agreements not to add further injury to the health of people fleeing war, nor to add to the ongoing infringement of the human rights of the local people by continued occupation of Manus Island.
Stewart, K (2013) US bases: the social and environmental risks
Kim Stewart, BSc hons, MSW Friends of the Earth – Military Pollution Spokesperson, PACE – Peace, Anti-Nuclear and Clean Energy – Collective