- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2011

SEOUL | Steve House can’t stop thinking about the day in 1978 when he says he helped bury toxic Agent Orange at a U.S. military base in South Korea, hauling rusting drums to a ditch from a warehouse that soldiers called “voodoo land.”

After decades of silence and countless hours of suffering that he links to exposure to the dangerous herbicide, Mr. House is one of three former American soldiers whose accounts have sparked a joint U.S.-South Korean investigation.

The allegations have set off a media firestorm in South Korea, fueling daily TV news shows, front-page newspaper stories and worries among people about groundwater safety, cancer and drops in land prices near the base.

Mr. House says that soldiers at Camp Carroll in southern South Korea took a large number of 55-gallon drums, fragile with rust and stamped with the words “Agent Compound Orange,” from the mysterious, restricted warehouse and carried them over crisp dead grass into a deep ditch the length of a soccer field.

“This is a burden I’ve carried around for 35 years,” Mr. House, 54, said in a phone interview with the Associated Press from his home in Apache Junction, Ariz. “It’s bugging the hell out of me. I don’t want to take this to my grave.”

Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commander of the 8th Army in South Korea, talks with investigators while technicians conduct the search at Camp Carroll. (Associated Press)
Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commander of the 8th Army in South ... more >

Two other former soldiers who served with Mr. House also said in interviews with KPHO-TV in Arizona, which first reported the claims, that they buried the toxic chemical; one estimated 250 drums of it.

Still sensitive to massive anti-U.S. demonstrations in South Korea in recent years, American officials have responded with remarkable speed.

Since the claims surfaced in mid-May, the U.S. military has acknowledged that it buried many drums of herbicide and other chemicals at the base in 1978. The chemicals then were dug up and disposed of somewhere away from the base.

But officials are still trying to find out where they were taken and whether Agent Orange was included in the burial.

The U.S. is jointly investigating the Camp Carroll site with South Korea, and on Thursday, U.S. and South Korean officials invited reporters to watch a search for buried objects using ground-penetrating radar.

Officials said the results must still be interpreted.

“Our analysis will be deliberate, thorough and transparent,” Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commander of the 8th Army, said in a statement. “We want to assure ourselves and the Americans and Koreans on and around Camp Carroll that we are taking the right steps to safeguard their health and safety.”

The quick action by the U.S. military and the intense Korean media interest reflect the often-tense relationship South Koreans have with the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed here to help deter North Korean aggression.

Liberals have often pushed for Seoul to assert its independence from Washington, and anti-Americanism previously has spurred massive rallies.

When soldiers involved in a 2002 traffic accident that killed two schoolgirls were exonerated, weeks of rage helped former President Roh Moo-hyun win a come-from-behind election victory with a pledge not to “kowtow” to Washington.

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