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The Tallahassee Democrat

Keeping The Bombs Away

By By Ronald Saff, M.D.

15 November 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Tallahassee Democrat. All rights reserved. 

Would you like to awaken to the sounds of warplanes streaking through the sky and dropping a payload of bombs nearby? I usually need a cup of coffee in the morning to jump-start my day, but feeling the ground tremble and my windows rattle from bomb explosions would certainly wake me up.

I am not talking about Fallujah or any war zones in Iraq but living next to a military missile bombing site in the United States. At Eglin Air Force Base in nearby Fort Walton Beach, the military recently tested a new 21,000-pound bomb called the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, also nicknamed "the mother of all bombs." This caused a mushroom cloud of smoke that rose hundreds of feet into the sky and was heard 20 miles away.

The military is looking for a new range because it is running out of space near Eglin - which is quickly becoming surrounded by widening highways and high-rise condos. The Air Force is now looking at Taylor County as a potential missile test site. Perry, the county seat, is an hour's drive southeast of Tallahassee. The low population density and miles of undeveloped land make it an attractive area for a military bombing site, according to military officials.

Many Taylor County residents are worried about more than just loud explosions. The small island of Vieques located near Puerto Rico was used as a bombing range for decades. Parts of the island have more bomb craters than the moon. Numerous reefs have been damaged by errant bombs. One military guard was killed when a bomb mistakenly went off target.

Taylor County residents are also worried about the contents in the bombs themselves. Many projectiles are made with depleted uranium because its high density can penetrate hard surfaces like a tank's armor. Environmentalists are concerned because the depleted uranium that is used in some of the bombs has a half-life of 4 billion years - yes, billion with a b. Although depleted uranium doesn't dissolve in water, many are worried that radioactively contaminated soil could become acidified over generations of time and the uranium could leach into the groundwater.

Bombs can veer off course. In 1967, a napalm bomb tested at Eglin was accidentally released near the First Baptist Church in nearby Valparaiso. While the bomb did not explode, some napalm leaked out. Earlier this month an F-16 fighter jet mistakenly strafed an elementary school with 25 rounds of ammunition in Little Egg Harbor, N.J. The pilot was supposed to fire at a target on the ground 31Ú2 miles from the school. Holes were noted in the school's roof. Fortunately nobody was hurt in these incidents.

There are a minority in Taylor County who favor a bombing range to support the military. However, the residents overwhelmingly rejected the test range in a non-binding referendum vote on Nov. 2. Most feel that their county doesn't need to be bombed in order for them to be patriotic Americans. The Pentagon will likely have the ultimate decision.

Dr. Ronald Saff is a Tallahassee allergy and asthma specialist.

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