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Pentagon blocks report on ‘toxic contamination’ at base outside Okinawa capital

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The U.S. military is refusing to release a report detailing environmental contamination at Camp Kinser, a 2.7-sq.-km U.S. Marine Corps supply base near Okinawa’s capital, Naha, that is scheduled for return to civilian use.

Since April 2014, U.S. Pacific Command has repeatedly stonewalled a Freedom of Information Act request for the 1993 report, titled “USFJ Talking Paper on Possible Toxic Contamination at Camp Kinser, Okinawa.” Initially, in October 2014, the U.S. authorities acknowledged they possessed the report but refused to release it, citing, among other reasons, a need “to protect against public confusion.” Following an FOIA appeal and further demands for the document, officials appeared to backtrack in August by suggesting that they did not have the report and they required more time to locate it.

Although the full text of the discussion paper remains under wraps, excerpts have been previously quoted in documents prepared for the U.S. military that are publicly available. These excerpts suggest extensive pollution on Camp Kinser.

One section cites “evidence of environmental contamination by heavy metals and pesticides caused by past hazardous material storage practices.” Another part reveals the burial of more than 12.5 tons of toxic ferric chloride on the base and the dumping of pesticides in a landfill at Camp Hansen, central Okinawa.

The report describes Camp Kinser — which was formerly called the Machinato or Makiminato Service Area — as a key storage site for retrograde chemicals from the Vietnam War including “insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides, inorganic and organic acids, alkalis, inorganic salts, organic solvents, and vapor degreasers.”

At the time of publication, U.S. Forces Japan had not responded to requests for comment on its reluctance to release the full discussion paper.

However, Manabu Sato, a professor of political science at Okinawa International University, suggested the motivation might relate to future plans for the base.

“The return of Camp Kinser is one of the most celebrated features of the so-called ‘reduction of the U.S. military footprint on Okinawa.’ Thus the Pentagon wants to conceal the reality of contamination that would damage the political value of its return,” he told The Japan Times.

Under a 2013 Japan-U.S. agreement to consolidate the Pentagon presence on Okinawa, Camp Kinser is supposed to be returned to civilian control in a three-phase plan expected to be completed in “2025 or later.” A 1-hectare section of the base consisting of an access road was returned in 2013; another 2-hectare parcel was scheduled to be returned in 2014, but that handover has not yet taken place.

Due to Camp Kinser’s proximity to Naha, the land is considered prime real estate for future development — particularly for the island’s tourist industry. Okinawa’s economy used to be dependent on the U.S. military; however, today, according to prefecture statistics, the Pentagon presence contributes only about 5 percent to the local economy. Moreover, in recent years, contamination on former military land has hampered plans for its smooth transition to civilian control.

Camp Kinser is one of the USMC’s largest supply bases on Okinawa, stockpiling ammunition, fuel and vehicles. It also hosts an elementary school and accommodation for service members and their families; approximately 1,000 base employees work on the installation. Some 114,000 people live in the neighboring city of Urasoe.

A series of incidents have sparked fears among local residents about environmental pollution at Camp Kinser. In 2009, six Japanese workers fell ill following exposure to an unknown substance at a warehouse on the base. In 2013, mongooses caught near the installation showed high levels of poisonous polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), while earlier this month, scientists from Meio University and Ehime University reported that habu snakes in the vicinity of Camp Kinser were also found to contain elevated concentrations of PCBs and the banned insecticide DDT.

In response to the habu report, the mayor of Urasoe, Tetsuji Matsumoto, ordered tests on local water and announced he would ask Tokyo to conduct an investigation.

Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, Washington is not obliged to allow Japanese officials to inspect its military bases for contamination — nor is it responsible for the cleanup of polluted former base land.

Currently the U.S. and Japan are finalizing an environmental stewardship agreement to supplement SOFA that is expected to allow local officials access to bases in the event of chemical spills or to conduct surveys on land scheduled for imminent return.

Jon Mitchell received the inaugural Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Freedom of the Press Award for Lifetime Achievement earlier this year for his investigations into U.S. military contamination on Okinawa and other base-related problems. Your comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Liars N. Fools

    Another example of great work by Jon Mitchell. The Americans and USMC are simply not credible in their claims to be good “guests” or stewards of land that they have exploited for decades. USMC leaders in particular show an attitude that “by right of conquest” they can do as they please.

  • jwtn

    Oh wait, their good neighbors to have

  • Starviking

    However, Manabu Sato, a professor of political science at Okinawa International University, suggested the motivation might relate to future plans for the base.

    “The return of Camp Kinser is one of the most celebrated features of the so-called ‘reduction of the U.S. military footprint on Okinawa.’ Thus the Pentagon wants to conceal the reality of contamination that would damage the political value of its return,” he told The Japan Times.

    And what does Professor Sato think the political value of returning land that is contaminated?

    Even in his own scenario, his logic makes no sense.

    • Firas Kraïem

      Haha, do you think the Japanese authorities will investigate the contamination of the land after it has been returned?

      • jwtn

        Judging by the fact that Tokyo and the U.S. Military look down upon Okinawa negativity probably not.

      • Starviking

        The prefectural authorities will.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Shameful, but par for the course (of Empire).

  • John Chan

    Evil American Empire, the War Machine~!

    • David

      now Abe pushing for Japan to join the MIC into making Japan a war machine weapons manufacturer. China and USA are the worlds biggest trading partners and both play good cop and bad cop helping each other make a killing. Pity most asian countries are falling for the USA BS and allow these parasites to kill their land and culture.

      There is no democracy just total Facism

  • smith

    Those types of chemicals cause brain damage or cancer? Just like Chery point NC They had a dangerous amount of lead in the water that caused birth defects. Now this. I guess its cheaper to kill there own people then to pay for their VA over the next 40 years. I fell sorry to the families that chose to have kids there.

    • donschneider

      And our wonderful Okinawan friends ? To you we all apologize !

    • donschneider

      And our wonderful Okinawan friends ? To you we all apologize !

  • Mark Kelly

    This is a pre-emptive strike to counter the Google of lawsuits that will be filed against Japan because of Fukushima. There will little sympathy from America about these remnants of WW2. According to American history, the Japanese cravenly attacked us at Pearl Harbor so you deserve the beat down. Your History will vary.

    • jwtn

      So what your saying is that the Okinawans should be treated with complete impunity, so the Japanese, the people who actually attacked us can walk free. Do you understand that the Okinawans are a completely different race. World War 2 ended 70 years ago, why don’t you just get over it. We should have liberated the Ryuuyuans from, help them get back on their feet and left. That should have been it.

      • Mark Kelly

        Okinawa was a part of the Japanese Empire when it was attacked. If Japan hadn’t armed it and used it to launch attacks against the American military, Okinawa wouldn’t have been bombed at all. Okinawa was “Collateral Damage” in a war started by the Japanese…..You know the Japanese. Over 15 MILLION Chinese slaughtered from 1933-1945. over a million Koreans slaughtered as well. Young girls in their early teens being forced to be “Comfort women” for the Japanese Military and the BRUTAL treatment of American POWs. An American POW was EIGHT times as likely to die in a Japanese POW camp as he was in a German POW camp. …….Ps The only people who care about Okinawa in America that don’t have ties to Okinawa are fans of “Karate Kid 2″. Tens of thousands of “peoples” who once existed are no more.Okinawa isn’t anything special and we have our own sites to clean up. …….Countries just LOVE taking American money and then whining about it.

      • jwtn

        Before ww2 Okinawa was an occupied colony of Japan and still is today. I’m also an American veteran so don’t give this crap

    • donschneider

      Shame on you Mark. We are talking about Okinawa, Not Tokyo. Let he who is without nuclear sin, cast the first stone !

    • donschneider

      Shame on you Mark. We are talking about Okinawa, Not Tokyo. Let he who is without nuclear sin, cast the first stone !

  • GBR48

    People don’t hide innocence, only guilt. If they won’t release the report, then Okinawans would be well advised to fear the worst and consider the land to be unusable without thorough, lengthy and expensive decontamination procedures.

    Given the documented extent of contamination at a substantial number of US military bases, it’s really just a question of ‘how contaminated is it?’ and ‘with what?’. Given the date and region, probably chemical weapon ingredients, industrial material like fuel and oil, and maybe some asbestos.

    Although the report may be useful in noting areas of severe pollution, local authorities would have to do their own checks anyway.

    As to why any release of the report is being delayed, putting off the release of bad news, even when it is only delaying the inevitable, is considered important amongst government agencies and politicians, not least because it may then be someone else’s problem when it finally surfaces. It may also clash with previous statements made regarding the land, making those who made them look like liars or idiots.

    At present, the US are ‘moving to a more suitable base, handing ‘prime real estate’ back to the locals’, which is politically more palatable than ‘leaving the land that they polluted for someone else to sort out, and moving to a nice clean bit’.

  • donschneider

    Thank you Jon ! People would not believe our statements on orange stir[ped barrels and stacks upon stacks of chemical containing barrels at “Machinato” (Makinamoto, camp Kinser ? call it what you like ). It was the storage and transfer point for A/O to other bases on the Island where they were used by all three branches of the US Armed Forces who had bases on Island. The Okinawan People and the American service men owe you a debt of gratitude Jon. that none of us are capable of repaying. You are amassing one huge beautiful Karma !