Reuters reported yesterday that the Trump Administration had planned to open a new detention center at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas to house up to 7,500 unaccompanied migrant children, but the site may not be safeEarthjustice issued a report yesterday in which it raised concerns with this site because the organization has identified Superfund sites on base in proximity to the proposed housing site, including a former landfill, artillery range, fuel depot, and fire training areas. While some areas have been cleaned up not all have been remediated, thus Earthjustice argues in the report that more extensive testing is warranted to ensure the site is safe because the clean up may not have been sufficient to house children there. According to the Report:

  • “If allowed to happen, approximately 7,500 migrant children will be detained in an area contaminated with lead, arsenic, benzene, PFAS, and myriad other harmful chemicals associated with increased risk of cancer and permanent neurodevelopmental damage.”
  • “These bases are known to be riddled with toxic hazards from past military operations, spills, storage of toxic chemicals, unexploded ordnances, and firing ranges, to name a few.”
  • “Other contaminants detected at the site include volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which contaminate the air and threaten human health through vapor intrusion causing nausea, headaches, and damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and liver.”
  • Ecowatch noted that the report found that lead levels in the soil in the past exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safe levels for children’s play areas by 27 times and that lead in the groundwater exceeded safety standards by more than 20 percent.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the detention centers for kids, said it had visited Goodfellow AF Base, along with several other sites, but that it is not under active consideration for a detention center right now.  But Earthjustice is concerned that if President Trump were to declare a border emergency, then the government could announce that as part of the emergency they will construct the detention facility on an expedited basis without any further environmental testing or reviews.

Why This Matters:  It is hard to predict what the Administration will do on border detentions, especially if the President declares a border emergency to “build the wall.”  Earthjustice may be sounding the alarm about potential health impacts to migrant children there because the possible border wall emergency is making news this week.  But the real question is what about all the current occupants of Goodfellows AF base?  According to DoD, there are approximately 5000 service members and 800 civil servants working there, and 12,000 family members living on the base, including the children of service members stationed there.  Those people may all be exposed to toxic chemicals and susceptible to the health impacts described in the Earthjustice report.

Graphic: Earthjustice

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