SEOUL, S. Korea - A U.S. Lt. General offered a public apology for dumping formaldehyde into a S. Korean river, a main source of drinking water for Seoul's 12 million people, according to the Associated Press.
"I officially express to you my deepest apology for the incident," Lt. Gen. Daniel J. Petrosky, commander of the 8th U.S. Army, said in a statement issued by his spokesman July 24.
Earlier this month, the military admitted releasing 20 gallons of formaldehyde into the local wastewater sewage system in February.
Col. Samuel Taylor, Petrosky's spokesman, read the statement to television audiences. In the statement, the Lt. General said the military would take appropriate corrective action after an inquiry is completed.
The investigation will be led by Maj. Gen. Barry Bates, who is responsible for all U.S. Army installations in South Korea.
About a dozen S. Korean activists demonstrated outside S. Korea's Defense Ministry, the building where the statement was read. They displayed a U.S. flag with "Ugly U.S. Army!" scrawled on it.
Taylor said Petrosky could not issue the apology in person because he was traveling to the United States to see his daughter, who was seriously injured in a traffic accident last week.
The U.S. military command said it believes the formaldehyde caused no harm to public health, since it was treated in the sewage system and diluted with wastewater before it was released into the Han River.
While this would be illegal in the U.S., most wastewater treatment plants would be able to effectively treat this amount of formaldehyde, said Al Goodman, president of Water Environment Federation.
"I believe that discharging 20 gallons of formaldehyde to a sewer system would not be allowed by most municipalities in the U.S., without requiring what is known as a 'spill report'," Goodman said. "This is true even if the treatment plant would be capable of treatment of this formaldehyde."
Agreeing with the military's assessment of the incident, Goodman said, "If the formaldehyde was discharged to a sewer system that flowed into a treatment plant, I do not believe the toxicity of the formaldehyde would have escaped the plant to the river. This is especially true if the treatment plant uses biological treatment processes to treat the wastewater. Formaldehyde can be easily treated by biological processes in the concentration range of 20 gallons discharged into most cities wastewater treatment plants."
The tension is likely the result of growing public discontent over U.S. military presence in the entire Pacific region. In the last month, crimes against U.S. personnel in Seoul's Itaewon shopping district included the stabbing death of an Army doctor. In three separate incidents, U.S. military and civilians were attacked by Koreans. U.S. military officials in South Korea are responding to local unrest, issuing new warnings to troops to be careful.