Release of Sewage in Okinawa and the Tyranny of an Untrustworthy US Military

Sewage containing PFOS, a hazardous chemical compound that includes organic fluorine, was released into a public sewer system from Okinawa’s U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan City.

The prefecture and the city had been opposed to the planned release, and both the U.S. and Japanese governments were in the midst of discussion when the U.S. made the one-sided decision to release the waste.

The U.S. stressed that it had treated the waste with a purifier to reduce its density, but an investigation by the city of Ginowan detected concentration of the chemical at about 13 times the amount set by national provisional guidelines.

The high-handedness of the U.S. military not only affects the surrounding residents; it also shows disdain for the Japanese government, yet it has not been acknowledged.

Surprisingly, the Japanese government has decided to accept and deal with the remaining unprocessed sewage on the base. The U.S. military has a duty to ensure environmental conservation is maintained within its facilities. It is unreasonable for Japanese citizens to shoulder the burden through their taxes.

Has the servility toward the U.S. gone too far? The Japanese government ought to call on the U.S. to deal with the issue.

PFOS compounds are used in applications such as foam fire extinguishers for aircraft accidents, but they have been cited as having negative effects on the human body and the environment. Their use and manufacture are subject to international regulation.

Up until now, the U.S. military has relied on contractors to deal with the sewage by incineration. The U.S. was exploring plans with the Japanese to release the chemicals because it was a costly process. In late August, during negotiations between the U.S. and Japan, the U.S. released about 64,000 gallons of waste with 30 minutes’ advance notice.

Naturally, local residents were outraged at this “sneak attack.” The U.S. military presence is not viable without mutual trust, but this latest conduct has done heavy damage to the foundation of that relationship.

Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi has announced Japan intends to accept the remaining sewage, about 360,000 liters (approximately 95,000 gallons) in order to “dispel the concerns of the residents.” Incineration will cost about 92 million yen (approximately $805,400). Furthermore, the Japanese government will take on the costs of repairing the area surrounding the water tanks.

However, the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which authorizes the U.S. Forces Japan, does not stipulate that the Japanese government must take on the U.S. military’s responsibilities. Even if a speedy response is necessary, the the U.S. must first pay for the damage.

Environmental pollution from areas surrounding U.S. military bases is becoming a problem in all parts of the country. Last year at Futenma, a large quantity of foam fire extinguisher that included PFOS compounds leaked outside of the base. In Tokyo, large concentrations of PFOS were detected around Yokota Air Base.

Nevertheless, because the U.S. military’s extraterritoriality is recognized pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement, in most cases, the Japanese government has no authority to initiate an investigation. It is not even clear how much of the chemical substance is stored or how it is maintained.

The new administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, which was established today, should promptly initiate discussions with the U.S. to prevent a repeat of the waste dumps, and demand a drastic revision of the Status of Forces Agreement.

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About Dorothy Phoenix 106 Articles
Dorothy is an independent video game developer, software engineer, technical writer, and tutor, with experience teaching students how to program and make games. In addition to programming and video games, Dorothy also enjoys studying Japanese language and culture. One of her goals is to exhibit a game at the Tokyo Game Show someday.

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