Editorial: U.S. military denies entry to base preventing essential right conduct surveys

July 12, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

The current situation wherein we cannot even conduct an investigation into environmental problems that could very well threaten the lives and livelihoods of Okinawans is one that we cannot approve of. The Japanese government must quickly pursue an effective policy that will allow such surveys to be conducted on the grounds of U.S. bases.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) requested permission to enter Kadena Air Base in order to conduct a survey to check for water pollution due to organic fluorine compounds, but were denied; the ODB’s abandonment of the survey was discovered via a right-to-know request.
Organic fluorine compounds come in many varieties. PFOS, PFOA are just a few of them. These are widely used in the making of water repellant materials and as a fluorine resin for coating instruments. They do not decompose easily in nature, and will accumulate over time.
They are indicated as a health risk, both as a potential carcinogen and as a source for developmental disorders. The manufacture, use, and export of these materials are restricted by international treaty.

It was confirmed that there was contamination in Okinawa both in underground water sources as well as in rivers. As a result people have stopped using tap water, and have instead begun requesting safe drinking water that is sold commercially in PET bottles.

While there are not determined regulation levels in Japan, it is without a doubt a problem for the health of Okinawans. Even without a disclosure request, Japan should be able to make such things known to the public just from their regular interactions with the U.S. military. We would like if public officials remembered that their role is to be “in service to everyone.”

The ODB requested access to the base from the U.S. military in 2017 and 2019, but were denied. The incremental increase of instances where Japan is required to obtain permission from the U.S. military is due to the fact that the U.S. has exclusive authority over the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

The environmental clarification of SOFA signed in September of 2015 is only just starting to take shape. At the time of the signing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said proudly, “We were able to effective enact a revision to SOFA.”

However, the ODB this time did not request to enter the base to conduct a survey, a right based on the environmental clarification in SOFA. The hurdles to clear the requirements for entry proved to be too high.

In addition to the prerequisite that the U.S. will provide Japan with information regarding and environmental incident, there is also a requirement that states, “[Access is] limited to cases where the U.S. has judged that entry will not be an impediment to U.S. military operations.”

The U.S. has sole discretion to accept or deny these applications, and it is seen as quite difficult to meet all of the requirements. It is clear that this was a supplemental agreement in name only. There have been many agreements reached between Japan and the U.S., but their effectiveness has been dismal.

It has been three years since the water pollution problem was detected. Even the Japanese government themselves have not been able to enter to conduct a survey. Japan has failed to see the requests of Okinawa through to completion.

In Germany, municipalities have the right to enter bases without prior notification. As a sovereign nation, Japan should also aim to revise SOFA with this goal in mind.
We ask that both Japan and Okinawa take a shared stance on the problem of delivering all of the information collected to Okinawans. It is imperative that a concrete plan is put together to stop the source of the pollution.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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