Japanese government knew of Kadena Air Base’s PFOS contamination, did not disclose it

Japanese government knew of Kadena Air Base’s PFOS contamination, did not disclose it

U.S. Kadena Air Base photographed in September 2018

June 19, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

High concentrations of the chemicals PFOS and PFOA have been detected in rivers and springs in the vicinity of U.S. military bases in the central part of Okinawa Island. There is data to suggest that these chemicals could be carcinogenic. On June 18 the Ryukyu Shimpo discovered that the United States had confirmed contamination by these substances during water quality studies on the compound of Kadena Air Base, and that these results had been shared with the Japanese central government.

At a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Security on June 18 Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono said that these results were shared with the Japanese government.

Concerning disclosure of these study results, which could lead to identification of the source of contamination near the bases, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) staff official only said, “Having acceptance from the United States is essential, so we hope to take appropriate action hereafter.”

There is widespread uneasiness and concern among Okinawans concerning contamination by chemicals like PFOS. Essentially, while the MOFA understood the results of the U.S. study that confirmed pollution by these substances on Kadena Air Base, it decided to conceal the facts.

Substances including PFOS in the water sources of Chatan Water Treatment Plant (located in Chatan Town) have been detected at high concentrations in surveys conducted by the Okinawa Prefectural Enterprise Bureau, and the existence of the U.S. military base has been indicated as the source of these substances. However, the U.S. military has not admitted to the base being the cause of these substances’ presence. The Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) has not yet been able to enter the U.S. base compound and conduct investigations, as it has been requesting for some time, even though it has been more than three years since the contamination was discovered.

On June 18 at this meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Security, Seiken Akamine (of the Japanese Communist Party) addressed a portion of the January 2019 report on a U.S. military investigation on Kadena Air Base, which detected of high concentrations of PFOS, asking, “Were these investigation results indeed shared with the Japanese government?” Minister Kono responded, “They were [shared].”

Regarding the matter of officially announcing these investigation results, Director-General Kazuhiro Suzuki of the MOFA’s North American Affairs Bureau repeated the explanation that the Japanese government requires agreement from the United States. Akamine criticized him, saying, “I don’t sense even a trace of a constructive attitude.”

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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