US Military Base in Okinawa Deepens Distrust with Contaminated Water Release

There are no words to describe the spinelessness of the U.S. military in Okinawa. Late last month, the Marines took the unbelievable step of discharging 64,000 liters of water containing PFOS, a perfluorinated compound, into the sewage system from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

PFOS has been used as a foam fire extinguishing agent, but its production and use is now banned by law due to growing concerns that it is seriously harmful to the human body and the environment.

The U.S. military has consulted with the U.S. government about releasing the material, saying that incinerating it would be too costly. While the governments of Japan and the U.S. were discussing the issue, the United States proceeded unilaterally. This is unacceptable.

The Japanese government, usually reluctant to listen to the American side, immediately expressed its concerns, and the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously passed a resolution of protest against the U.S. government and military.

The U.S. military explained that there was no danger, because the sewage had been treated to a low concentration and then discharged. However, when the local city of Ginowan collected and examined the sewage, it was found to be 13 times higher than the standard value set by the government for water quality control in rivers. The government needs to ask the U.S. for a clear explanation.

Last year, the Environmental Ministry announced that there were about 3.4 million liters of foam containing PFOS at firefighting and Self-Defense Force bases and airports in Japan. One of these, the Naha Air Base of the Air Self-Defense Force, had an accident in February this year where the same agent was dispersed. Additionally, high concentrations of PFOS and other chemicals were found in a water tank on the premises. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi announced a policy of investigating bases nationwide.

Both of these are scandals that cannot be overlooked, and the management and responsibility of the Ministry of Defense will be severely questioned. If it were the Self-Defense Forces, investigations could be conducted, but with regard to the U.S. military, we have no idea how many hazardous substances it possesses and how they are being managed.

A supplementary agreement on the environment came into effect in 2003, but the authority of the Japanese side remains vague. In fact, since 2004, when high concentrations of PFOS were detected in the vicinity of Kadena Air Base, the national and prefectural governments have requested on-site investigations, but the U.S. military has refused.

Since PFOS has been found around the bases on a regular basis, including the case of Kadena, the prefecture is seeking to revise the rules to allow prompt access to the base and the substances it contains.

The problem is not limited to Okinawa; PFOS has been detected in wells around the U.S. Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, and the problem is spreading nationwide. The government should accept the public’s concerns and proceed with discussions with the U.S.

With regard to the forced release of nuclear materials, the U.S. military said that it would not accept any protests, but agreed to meet with prefecture officials under the guise of “exchanging opinions.” This is also incomprehensible behavior. The arrogant attitude of the U.S. military will deepen the rift with the people of the prefecture and make it difficult to wipe out their distrust.

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