U.S. military storage of Agent Orange in Okinawa

August 8, 2012 Ryota Shimabukuro of Ryukyu Shimpo

On August 7, it was reported that 25000 barrels of Agent Orange were stored in Okinawa until 1972, the year when Okinawa returned to Japanese sovereignty. This was written in 2003 in a report issued by the Chemical Materials Agency of the Department of the Army. It is the first time that an official document from a U.S. Army-related organization has been as found that refers both to the presence of these chemicals on Okinawa, and the actual number of barrels. This may influence the stance of both the U.S. government, which has denied that it has any records of Agent Orange or other herbicides being stored or used in Okinawa, and the Japanese government, which has fit in with that position, therefore rejecting to conduct an independent investigation. Journalist Jon Mitchell, who has been investigating the issue of Agent Orange in Okinawa, disclosed the presence of the report entitled, “An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Atoll” in the Japan Times on August 7.

According to the report, the U.S. Air Force transported the defoliant to Johnston Island a year after the military commenced Operation Red Hat, in which the chemical weapons stored in the Chibana ammunition storage facility were removed to the American owned Johnston Island in 1971. According to the report, 113-tons of Agent Orange leaked into the soil of the former chemical weapons storage site in an area known as the Red Hat Area located in the northwest part of the main island of Okinawa.

The report refers to the possibility that in terms of its timing and the location, moving the barrels of Agent Orange from Okinawa to Johnston Island was a part of Operation Red Hat. A statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2009 referred to military herbicides having been stored in Okinawa during the period from August 1969 to March 1972 and later disposed of in Operation Red Hat. The relationship between Agent Orange and Operation Red Hat is indicated.

According to the report, the stocks of Agent Orange were incinerated at sea in 1977 aboard the Dutch ship the Vulcanus after being taken to Johnston Island.
With regard to the issue of Agent Orange in Okinawa, in 2007 the VA admitted that some U.S. veterans were suffering from health problems due to exposure to Agent Orange that had been sprayed in the Northern Training Area. In 2011, 100 former service members sought compensation from the U.S. government for health problems caused by exposure to the defoliant while serving in Okinawa. There are concerns about health of the veterans, former base workers, and the redevelopment of land used for bases. Representatives of the municipalities that host the bases are asking the Japanese and U.S. governments to investigate the issue.
(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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