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Demand answers about dioxin threat at Okinawa schools

To the teachers and parents of children attending Bob Hope Primary School and Amelia Earhart Intermediate School, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa:

My name is Heather Bowser and I am the cofounder and national coordinator of the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Okinawa City where, in June, barrels of an unknown substance were uncovered near your children’s playground.

Have you heard of the discovery? More than 20 chemical drums were found buried on the other side of the fence just past one of your jungle gyms.

Standing near the blue tarps covering the hole from where the barrels were exhumed, my heart ached when I realized its proximity to your schools. I am begging you to demand a full investigation into the toxicity of the land where the schools are built.

There has been lots of speculation about what the barrels once contained. The words “Agent Orange” have even been used. But regardless of what the material in the barrels was, there has been confirmation of TCDD dioxin — independent tests confirmed that the level in nearby water was 840 times safe limits. Have you been told this industrial byproduct has been found less than a football field away from where your children play at recess?

The possible contamination of the ground surrounding your kids’ schools should not be ignored.

In lab tests on animals, dioxin has caused a wide variety of diseases, many of them fatal. Dioxin is not found in nature, but it’s a man-made byproduct of the chemical manufacturing process. Most notably, Agent Orange used in Vietnam was later found to be heavily contaminated with dioxin.

Dioxin is what is responsible for sickening and killing our U.S. Vietnam veterans, Australian Vietnam veterans and of course the Vietnamese. The illnesses presumed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to be caused by exposure to dioxin include chronic B-cell leukemias, diabetes mellitus type 2, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer and respiratory cancers — including lung cancer.

Do you know any children already suffering from these illnesses at a really young age? Dioxin exposure could be to blame.

If your children are boys and they have been exposed to dioxin, they have a higher likelihood of having children with neural tube defects like spina bifida. Your future grandchildren do not deserve to carry the burden of negligence. They did not enlist.

Children of Vietnam Veterans has a long history of dealing with our families’ exposure to dioxin. The dioxin they were exposed to was in the chemical herbicides sprayed in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971. We are a group of 20-45-year-olds, many of whom have lost their fathers to illnesses caused by exposure to dioxin.

We have been born with many birth defects and illnesses the government is still ignoring. My mother suffered two miscarriages, and in 1972 I was born two months premature, weighing only 3 lb, 4 oz [1.5 kg]. I was missing my right leg below the knee, several of my fingers, my big toe on my left foot, and my remaining toes were webbed. There was absolutely no history of miscarriages or birth defects in either family. This could be what your children may face when they start their own families.

By age 38, my dad had had five heart bypasses; at 40, he developed diabetes; at 48, he had a stroke; aged 50, he died of a massive heart attack, leaving my mother a young widow.

We do not want anyone to suffer what we as children of Vietnam veterans have gone through, and that is why we are speaking out. We are innocent victims, and our government turns a blind eye to our birth defects.

We are dying; our fathers are dying or have died. Do not allow your family to be added to our dioxin genocide.

Your family deserves to know the truth about possible contamination. If your children have been exposed, they deserve justice and immediate health treatment.

Please research the contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. An investigation found contamination spanned three decades — 30 years of drinking contaminated water.

What are officials doing to ensure your children are not exposed to potential contamination at Bob Hope Primary School and Amelia Earhart Intermediate School? Demand school officials close the playground until the soil can be tested and remediation undertaken if necessary.

Educate yourself on dioxin exposure. Don’t let your children and grandchildren carry this burden.

HEATHER A. BOWSER
Canfield, Ohio

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