Connections to Sewer Must Be Disconnected after Chemical Release by US Forces

On Aug. 26, U.S. Forces stationed in Japan began releasing contaminated water containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) stored at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma into the public sewer system after subjecting it to dilution measures. Despite the prefectural government and city of Ginowan objecting to the plan, it was unilaterally decided that the water would be released. The decision ignores both the safety of citizens in the prefecture and the impact on the environment.

The same toxic substances that cannot be released into the sewer system in Japan by law are being released into the public infrastructure without consent. This is not just a problem for Okinawa; it is a grave matter that concerns the sovereignty of a nation. We should not permit extraterritorial rights. The Japanese government must protest in the strongest terms to the United States and put a stop to the release of these chemicals immediately.

Under sewerage law, the administrator is able to enforce a temporary suspension of the disposal citing water quality conservation. If U.S. forces do not stop the release of the water and enter into dialogue with the Japanese side, authorities must consider severing the connection to the sewer system to protect the lives and health of citizens in the prefecture.

Under normal circumstances, contaminated water containing PFAS is incinerated as waste. The Ministry of the Environment and the Fire and Disaster Management Agency have called for businesses to dispose of fire extinguishing foam containing PFAS in accordance with the Waste Management and Public Cleansing Law.

In this case, however, the U.S. Marine Corps claimed that incineration would be costly and time consuming, and instead proposed that they release the water into the public sewer system outside Futenma after diluting the concentration of the contaminated water with processing equipment used in the United States. It is an attitude that prioritizes the United States’ cost convenience and insists U.S. forces be exempt from Japanese environmental laws.

PFAS are carcinogenic and known to have adverse health effects. They accumulate in the environment with little decomposition. In July, the Ginowan city assembly unanimously passed a resolution and opinion paper opposing the release of the contaminated water into the public sewer system and rivers.

Discussions concerning disposal methods have continued between U.S. forces, the government and Okinawa Prefecture, while the Japanese government has remained incredibly cautious. The most recent release of contaminated water was forced through without any agreement with Japanese authorities, something that is very out of the ordinary.

U.S. forces insist that the amount of PFOS and PFOA, types of PFAS, in the treated water was lower than the target for drinking water in Japan (50 nanograms per liter). The problem is that the country and prefecture have no secure way of confirming whether or not the way the U.S. forces treated the water before it was released was appropriate before that standard level was established.

Even basic information, such as the amount of contaminated water that was being stored, was not communicated to Japanese authorities until the water was released. The discharge of large amounts of contaminated water results in large amounts of accumulated waste, regardless of whether the concentration per liter is reduced. It is simply not possible to approve of this kind of disposal when the fundamental information is a mystery, no matter how much the U.S. forces stress the importance of safety.

The Japanese government bears the utility costs of U.S. military bases in Japan through the cost of host nation support for U.S. forces in Japan (otherwise known as the Omoiyari Yosan, or sympathy budget). Will our taxes be used to pay for this outrageous act of environmental pollution?

U.S. forces should take responsibility and send the PFAS contaminated water to the United States, where it can processed at America’s own expense.

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