Parents fear kids exposed to dioxin at base

Kadena moms demand truth

by Jon Mitchell

Special To The Japan Times

Six months ago, dangerous levels of dioxin were discovered near two U.S. Department of Defense schools on Okinawa Island — but only now are many service members based there learning the full extent of the contamination.

Parents whose children attend the potentially poisoned facilities at Kadena Air Base claim the Pentagon has failed to inform them of the risks or investigate whether the pollution extends onto the school ground. Many are accusing the military authorities of endangering their children’s health and now they have formed a group to demand answers.

The focus of parents’ fears are the playing fields of Bob Hope Primary School and Amelia Earhart Intermediate School, facilities operated by the Department of Defense for the children of U.S. service members.

Last June, construction workers unearthed more than 20 chemical barrels on civilian land bordering the schools.

Following tests the following month, the barrels were found to contain high concentrations of dioxin, a substance that can cause cancer, immune system damage and developmental problems in children. In nearby soil, dioxin levels measured 8.4 times the legal limit, while water peaked at 280 times the level considered safe. The land had once belonged to the adjacent air base but was returned to civilian use in 1987.

“Knowing that the base has probably been aware of this situation for many months, I feel very angry. I cannot imagine what could justify their decision to withhold this information from us parents. I believe they were morally and ethically obliged to warn us of the possible threat to our children,” Jannine Myers, the mother of a 10-year old girl attending Amelia Earhart Intermediate School, told The Japan Times.

Myers first heard about the contamination after reading a letter that was published in The Japan Times on Dec. 24 titled “Demand answers about dioxin threat at Okinawa schools.” (www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/12/23/voices/demand-answers-about-dioxin-threat-at-okinawa-schools/#.UtkSbCj8820 )

Angered by the authorities’ failure to notify parents and local residents about the possible dangers, Myers created a Facebook group on Jan. 10 named “Bob Hope/AEIS — Protect Our Kids,” in the hopes of persuading base officials to hold a public meeting and explain what action has been taken.

The group currently has more than 130 members with more parents joining everyday.

“If there is a dioxin threat at the schools, it will take an enormous amount of public pressure to a) have the U.S. authorities admit that they are responsible, and b), cause them to clean up this mess and protect our children,” Myers said.

Correspondence between Kadena Air Base officials and the Okinawa Defense Bureau reveals the U.S. authorities were aware of the proximity of the school fields to the chemical dumpsite as early as June.

Documents obtained by The Japan Times detail the bureau’s inquiries to the base immediately following the discovery of the barrels.

In response to these questions into past usage of the land, Kadena officials replied, “Starting in 1980, the area adjacent to the site was used as baseball fields and playgrounds for a nearby elementary school on Kadena Air Base.”

On Tuesday, in response to questions from The Japan Times about whether teachers and parents had been informed of the potential dangers, David Honchul, U.S. Forces Japan director of public affairs, appeared to contradict parents’ claims that they had not been notified. “There have been notices about the excavated drums and leadership at Kadena Air Base have been tracking the issue very closely,” he said by email.

Honchul also sought to reassure worried parents. “Kadena leadership and USFJ will take appropriate measures in accordance with DOD policy should we become aware of any potential substantial impact to human health and safety,” he wrote.

But it seems for many parents, this is too little, too late.

“The moment the knowledge of the barrels being uncovered and the potential for any dioxins to be found were known, every parent of the schools, and every person on Kadena should have been notified. I feel outraged,” Tina Eaton told The Japan Times. Eaton, who often takes her 3-year-old daughter to play on the schools’ fields, worries about the health effects of possible dioxin exposure on her child.

Meanwhile, on the civilian side of the wire, Japanese authorities are continuing to examine the land for further contamination.

Recently they discovered seven more barrels but they have not yet been unearthed. Unlike the nearby on-base land where American children are still allowed to play, the civilian side remains strictly cordoned off to prevent public access.

Among the barrels initially unearthed last June were some marked with the logo of the Dow Chemical Company, one of the leading manufacturers of military defoliants — including Agent Orange — during the Vietnam War. Tests on the barrels revealed the presence of two of Agent Orange’s telltale ingredients: the herbicide 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodiben-zop-dioxin (TCDD), the most lethal form of dioxin.

Commenting on the results, Katsuhisa Honda, the Ehime University scientist in charge of the study, likened the land to contaminated fields in Vietnam where the Pentagon sprayed millions of liters of Agent Orange in the 1960s.

Despite U.S. military records related to Agent Orange cataloguing a herbicide stockpile at Kadena in 1971, the Pentagon has repeatedly denied it stored such substances on Okinawa Island.

This is not the first time that Kadena Air Base schools have been the focus of public concern.

In 1983, a large quantity of live ammunition was discovered buried beneath the playground of Bob Hope Elementary School.

Recently, a number of high profile environmental concerns have come to light in Okinawa.

Last week, Kyodo published U.S. documents showing the Pentagon conducted dozens of biological weapons tests on the island between 1961 and 1962. Last summer, The Japan Times reported allegations from former U.S. service members that several tons of nerve gas were dumped off the island’s coast in 1969.

Under the current U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the Pentagon is absolved of all responsibility for environmental damage caused by its bases. However, in December, Washington announced that it would soon negotiate a new Environmental Stewardship Pact with Japan to supplement the current SOFA.

The Pentagon claimed the deal will improve environmental standards on its installations, but skeptics dismissed it as an attempt to placate Okinawans’ anger over plans to build a massive new military complex in the city of Nago.

However, it seems concerns over military pollution at Kadena Air Base has united many on both sides of the fence.

“We need to find out if our kids are at risk. That is the least the U.S. government/military owes us — and owes the people of Okinawa. They do not deserve this lethargic attitude on such a potentially devastating discovery, and neither do we,” Eaton said.

  • donschneider

    More voices are needed, more stories need to unfold to convince the department of defense that it is time to “come clean” on the usage and storage and eventual burial of A/O on Okinawa.

    • rr02

      You DO know of the very expensive and public removal of chemical material from Okinawa in 1971? Extreme measures were taken to assure the safe removal of all hazardous materials.
      There was no reason for Agent Orange to be on Okinawa and the nuclear weapons left when the B~52s departed.

      • donschneider

        rr02, It is best to keep your mouth closed and appear a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt ! …….. I am only one among MANY U.S. service men who served on Okinawa and experienced and observed not only the storage, but the USE of Agent Orange on Okinawa. Of course I too have seen the silly propaganda films of the removal of Sarin gas and other chemical weapons from the 267th. Chem Co. that occurred to such fanfare in 71′ But Obviously YOU never saw the size of the stockpile of A/O in the Machinato Supply Depot ! I suppose we didn’t have Nike missile bases on Okinawa in the 70′s either ! ……..And how, pray tell did the foliage disappear from the perimeters of those installations, the radar installations, Kadena Air Base, Machinato and Yomitan Sentry dog schools, the Northern Jungle Warfare Training center,Marine Installations, and along P.O.L.’s post 71 ? ……The U.S. Defense department STILL insists there was NEVER any A/O on Okinawa ! I suppose the tropical giant orange Foo birds dug nests and buried 55 gallon drums of A/O for their chicks to play with and then forgot about them leaving them for the Children of US Servicemen to play with (unbeknownst to US forces of course). rr02, please find another site to haunt with your dis-information. There are far too many reliable Okinawa Veterans around to refute your nonsense, you embarrass yourself !

    • Desk Pilot

      If you have the info, please share with the DoD. Otherwise, you are just buying into the bandwagon rhetoric.

      • donschneider

        Desk Pilot, perhaps you are unfamiliar with the old adage that “the pig caught under the fence is usually the one doing all the squealing” ? Well in this case our Defense Department is the offending pig, and the fence is the testimony and evidence still visible on Okinawa today. And your suggestion that I share information with the D.O.D. is ludicrous at best. The D.O.D. has refused to accept testimony from U.S. Veterans of Okinawa, on this matter, and my pointing this out to the “pig caught under the fence” would be extremely unwelcome information for the pig ! My admonition to rr02 applies equally as well to you. I also wish to make note that I am the commenter using his REAL Name here because I have nothing to fear about discussing facts in a rational up front manner for all to see.

      • Desk Pilot

        So, the DoD is the only spot to go to with your proof? Sounds like you are squealing far more than the DoD. And, how I choose to discuss matters does not make me any less credible to have a rational discussion.

      • rr02

        You either don’t know what you’re talking about or you’re a liar. If any of that stuff was used in the NTA in the ’70s as you state then the jungle would still be ravaged and the water would test as highly contaminated. In four tours on Okinawa between 1970 and 1995 I spent innumerable days and weeks on the ground and in the waters of the NTA and constantly flew over it never seeing evidence of the type herbicide destruction as was done in Vietnam.
        I don’t discount the presence of transshipped material since it is impossible to also prove otherwise and those who have been diagnosed have been so under the PRESUMPTION of exposure based on the type illnesses they have. This presumption only acknowledges the possibility of exposure based on the preponderance of evidence of those Viet vets who have a higher incidence of the same illnesses.

      • zer0_0zor0

        The article states

        Among the barrels initially unearthed last June were some marked with the logo of the Dow Chemical Company, one of the leading manufacturers of military defoliants — including Agent Orange — during the Vietnam War. Tests on the barrels revealed the presence of two of Agent Orange’s telltale ingredients: the herbicide 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodiben-zop-dioxin (TCDD), the most lethal form of dioxin.

        so I don’t see any rhetoric there.

        The preceding paragraph reports on as yet unearthed barrels that have subsequently been discovered.

        Recently they discovered seven more barrels but they have not yet been unearthed.

      • Desk Pilot

        Considering the coverage from the Okinawan papers on the issue, yes this is very much rhetoric. And also considering that this paper has played with the facts and misrepresented the truth on numerous angles, yes, it is rhetoric. The truth will set us free.

  • Rebane

    Ambassador Kennedy must be as concerned with Okinawa’s children’s welfare as she is with Taiji’s dolphins’.

  • Lisa Marie Gilbert

    Which schools ? IS one of the KES ? My kids attended KES and we on the street so they played at the park daily .

    • MissMinHeels

      Please read the article. It clearly states Bob Hope Primary School and Amelia Earhart Intermediate School…

  • TO

    Sadly, it sounds like a same old story all over again. I truly hope people can connect the dots, including health research on those who lived and worked in this neighborhood going back many years, and pressure the authority long and hard enough to hold those who are responsible accountable.

    You can name countless examples of these incidents not just by the US military, but also by corporations and their “friends” in governments which have basically underplayed the significance, by saying that it’s not related, don’t worry. It’s obvious to what’s been happening in the water contamination in West Virginia since last week. The same is true for the US veterans who are suffering from ill health due to “the Operation Tomodachi” after 3-11.

    Watch, “Semper Fi”, a 2011 award-winning documentary of water contamination cover-up by the US Marine Corps – unusually high numbers of military family members who stationed at those bases have died due to cancers. Another award-winning 2005 documentary, “Vieques: Worth Every Bit of Struggle”, chronicles local people’s fight against the US military occupation of their land for firing range/military training area in Purto Rico (US territory/colony) for many decades, with the same results for local residents. Even though the military decided to withdraw due to persistent public pressures, no significant clean-up has been performed.

    It’s impunity, period. The powerful can get away because they have many resources to do so, including de facto manipulations of laws and justice system through money and connections. But, occasionally, little people can score some victories. Watch the Julia Roberts movie based on a true story in California, called “Erin Brockovich.”

    Very best wishes!