We always appreciate the feedback of our visitors and subscribers to Civilian Exposure. There’s so much out there involving potential chemical contamination at military installations that we benefit by hearing from you directly about locations we’ve yet to cover. Such is the case with Okinawa and the potential for Agent Orange exposure.
One of our subscribers recently wrote in with the following request:
“I’m sending this letter so that Civilian Exposure can possibly investigate this cover-up by the Federal Government/Military. I ran everyday on top of this Agent Orange for 3 1/2 years without anyone informing me about the Agent Orange being there. My base housing was less than a tenth of a mile away. I have several medical problems that are ongoing and I have had several heart attacks too. This year alone, I have been in six hospitals with heart attacks and respiratory problems. I will be back at a hospital next week to unblock a artery or maybe even have a bypass.”
Here’s the attachment that was provided:
The following is the full text from the image above:
Updated 1/20/2016 – Agent Orange Okinawa | U.S. Continues to Deny Presence
The U.S. government has awarded compensation to the ailing former marine at the center of allegations that Agent Orange was dumped on Futenma Air Base in Okinawa. On 10 AUG the Board of Veterans’ Appeals ruled that retired Lt. Col. Kris Roberts, chief of maintenance at the installation in the early 1980s, had developed prostate cancer due to “exposure to hazardous chemicals.” The presiding judge based the decision on evidence including medical reports, statements and “photographs of barrels being removed from the ground.” However, the carefully worded ruling avoids specific reference to Agent Orange, which the Pentagon denies was stored on its Okinawa bases.
Roberts is the first veteran known to have won compensation for exposure on Futenma, and now he is urging the military to come clean about what really happened at the air base. “The Marine Corps has a moral and ethical obligation to alert others who may have been exposed,” he said in a telephone interview.
According to Roberts, he was ordered in 1981 to investigate high chemical readings detected in waste water running from the installation into neighboring communities in and around Ginowan, the city that surrounds Futenma. After checking the area of concern near one of the base’s runways, Roberts and his team unearthed more than 100 chemical barrels, some marked with the tell-tale orange stripes used to label defoliants. On orders from Futenma’s top brass, Roberts says the barrels were moved by Okinawan base workers to an undisclosed location. After the discovery, Roberts developed a number of serious illnesses, including heart disease and prostate cancer.
Roberts, now a state representative in New Hampshire, told The Japan Times that the Marine Corps has a duty to track down the U.S. service members and Japanese base employees who handled the toxic barrels. He also called on U.S. Forces Japan to inform local residents. “The base’s drainage pipes distributed the contaminated water all around the civilian communities near Futenma — not only in Ginowan city. USFJ needs to warn them of the dangers, and doctors need to look for clusters of diseases similar to the ones I have,” he said. Asked whether USFJ would notify others who may have been poisoned, Michael Ard, director of the MCIPAC (Marine Corps Installations Pacific) Public Affairs Office, referred comment to the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, which had not replied by the time of publication. Tiffany Carter, USFJ media relations chief, likewise declined immediate comment.
Such complacency does not surprise Manabu Sato, a professor in political science at Okinawa International University, which is situated adjacent to the Futenma base. “All available data regarding the contamination must be presented to Okinawan communities — but the U.S. government will not do so, nor will the Japanese government demand such action. Both governments want to conceal any past transgressions committed by the U.S. military on Okinawa so as not to fire up anti-U.S. military sentiment,” he said. The tacit admission of toxic contamination at Futenma will be particularly troubling for the U.S. government. The air base has long been a thorn in the side of U.S.-Japan relations. Okinawans have long demanded the closure of Futenma Air Station, but these latest allegations of contamination on the base raise fears that even after its planned closure and the relocation of many of its facilities to Henoko in the northeast, the land at Futenma will be too contaminated to use for years, if not decades.
According to publicly available Department of Veterans’ Affairs records, more than 200 U.S. vets believe they were poisoned by Agent Orange while serving in Okinawa. Their sicknesses include multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease and peripheral neuropathy — illnesses for which the Department of Veterans’ Affairs compensates Americans exposed to defoliants in Vietnam, Thailand and the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. Although photographs and military documents corroborate claims that defoliants were present in Okinawa, Washington maintains that no such evidence exists. To date, only a handful of U.S. veterans have been awarded compensation for exposure to Agent Orange in Okinawa. However, many veterans hope this will change following the discovery of more than 100 buried barrels in Okinawa City on land that used to be part of Kadena Air Base, the Pentagon’s busiest Okinawa installation during the Vietnam War. Some of the barrels — the first of which were unearthed in June 2013 — contained traces of Agent Orange’s three ingredients: the herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, and the TCDD dioxin. Japanese and international experts assert that the discovery proves military defoliants were present in Okinawa.
In June this year, the most recent tests revealed that some of the standing water near the barrels contained levels of dioxin thousands of times higher than environmental standards permit. Meanwhile, the Okinawan authorities’ handling of the cleanup has come under fire. Construction workers at the dump site wear little protective clothing and the plastic tarpaulins covering the excavation allow water to accumulate. In July a typhoon flooded the site, and residents claim the water was pumped into a nearby river without first being checked for contamination. The Okinawa City dioxin dump site highlights the shortcomings of the current U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which prevents Japanese officials from conducting environmental tests on U.S. military bases and relieves the Pentagon of all responsibility to clean up Japanese land formerly under its control. As well as dioxin, high levels of other toxic substances — including lead, arsenic and PCBs — have been discovered in recent years on former military land in Okinawa. [Source: The Japan times | August 17, 2015]
Originally in May 2016, we wrote an initial report highlighting the various chemicals at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. These included arsenic, lead, PCBs, asbestos and more. In addition, fuel leaks and firefighting foams were mentioned as potential sources. Upon reading this letter about the potential for Agent Orange (dioxin) present in Okinawa, we began to dig around various news sources to see what we could find on that specific issue. Here’s what we learned:
Indeed, it does appear (despite years of Pentagon denials until as recent as 2015) that Agent Orange was stored in Okinawa. According to an article from Global Research:
Documents released in September 2015 by the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Agent Orange dioxin was discovered at the U.S. Army’s Machinato Service Area (MSA), Urasoe City, Okinawa, in the 1970s. The 82 pages of reports produced by the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps focus on a 46,000 square-metre outdoor storage area within the base which was used to store “retrograde shipments from Viet-Nam” – including herbicides – during the 1960s and 1970s. Following tests of the soil and water in the mid-1970s, USMC documents cite the discovery of a “high concentration” of dioxin in the area; a United States Forces Japan report specifies the detection of “dioxin (agent orange component)” in 1975. The findings contradict Pentagon assertions as recently as 2015 that Agent Orange was never stored on Okinawa.
As we often argue, it all comes down to one thing: the federal government actively working to mitigate both risk and expense.
FOIA-released reports also provide insight into the hurdles the U.S. military faces dealing with contamination on its bases in Japan. In 1990, the Navy estimated that a full survey of the former storage site would cost more than $500,000 (approx. 112 million yen in 2015 terms), but it warned any actual remediation would cost much more. According to the reports, such funding would be difficult to obtain because some Pentagon clean-up budgets were reserved for projects within the U.S. Furthermore, there were not enough personnel available to conduct a survey of the size required for Camp Kinser. Then – as today – the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement relieves Washington of all costs of remediating land returned to public usage.
Other Relevant Links:
Japan Times Articles Since 2011 on military contamination in Okinawa:
- Evidence for Agent Orange on Okinawa, April 12, 2011
- Agent Orange buried on Okinawa, vet says, Aug. 13, 2011
- Okinawa vet blames cancer on defoliant, Aug. 24, 2011
- Agent Orange revelations raise Futenma stakes, Oct. 18, 2011
- Agent Orange buried at beach strip?” Nov. 30, 2011
- Vets win payouts over Agent Orange use on Okinawa, Feb. 14, 2012
- U.S. vet pries lid off Agent Orange denials, April 15, 2012
- Agent Orange ‘tested in Okinawa’, May 17, 2012
- Agent Orange at base in ’80s: U.S. vet, June 15, 2012
- 25,000 barrels of Agent Orange kept on Okinawa, U.S. Army document says, Aug. 7, 2012
- Poisons in the Pacific: Guam, Okinawa and Agent Orange, Aug. 7, 2012
- U.S. Agent Orange activist brings message of solidarity to Okinawa, Sept. 15, 2012
- The war legacy that binds Okinawa and Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2012
- ‘Were we marines used as guinea pigs on Okinawa?’” Dec. 4, 2012
- ’71 Pentagon paper says Agent Orange was stored on Kadena Air Base, Jan. 12, 2013
- U.S. report to deny Agent Orange in Okinawa, Feb. 15, 2013
- As evidence of Agent Orange in Okinawa stacks up, U.S. sticks with blanket denial, June 4, 2013
- ‘Okinawa bacteria’ toxic legacy crosses continents, spans generations, June 4, 2013
- Exclusive: Red Hat’s lethal Okinawa smokescreen, July 27, 2013
- A drop in the ocean: the sea-dumping of chemical weapons in Okinawa, July 27, 2013
- Okinawa dump site may be proof of Agent Orange: experts, Aug. 13, 2013
- Okinawa: the junk heap of the Pacific, Nov. 11, 2013
- Pollution rife on Okinawa’s U.S.-returned base land, Dec. 4, 2013
- Kadena moms demand truth, Jan. 14, 2014
- Fears widen over Kadena toxins, Feb. 1, 2014
- Ailing U.S. veteran wins payout over Agent Orange exposure in Okinawa, March 14, 2014
- U.S. military report suggests cover-up over toxic pollution in Okinawa, March 17, 2014
- Agent Orange ingredients found at Okinawa military dumpsite, July 11, 2014
- Battle scars: Okinawa and the Vietnam War, March 7, 2015
- U.S. marine wins compensation for Okinawa toxin exposure and calls for tests on residents near Futenma, Aug. 17, 2015
- Pentagon blocks report on ‘toxic contamination’ at base outside Okinawa capital, Sept. 16, 2015
- FOIA documents reveal hot spots, fish kills and toxic dumps on Okinawa military base, Sept. 29, 2015
- As Okinawa confronts dioxin, Vietnam offers lessons, Jan. 13, 2016
- Documents indicate chemical leaks at U.S. base have polluted Okinawa water supply, Feb. 9, 2016
- Contamination: Kadena Air Base’s dirty secret, April 9, 2016
- Contamination: The human cost of dioxin, PCBs and pollution at Kadena Air Base, April 16, 2016