Military base closures leave behind toxic, uninhabitable land

Military bases frequently serve as economic engines for the communities they inhabit, and with what could be the biggest round of base closures ever on its way from the Department of Defense, those communities hope that developing the land freed up by the closed bases will replace some of the lost revenue. But they may be out of luck: The bases frequently leave behind contaminated water, asbestos-ridden soil, unexploded munitions, the presence of endangered species, and a variety of other environmental concerns that can make development more expensive than it’s worth. Since the late ’80s, the DoD has spent some $12 billion on environmental cleanup at closed bases, but one-third of that land remains uninhabitable thanks primarily to toxic contamination. Developers have sued the military over contamination on some bases, but even for residents on adjoining land — suffering from cancer, miscarriages, and other ailments — “every bit of cleanup they get is a struggle,” said Tara Thornton of the Military Toxics Project.