Following an 18-month scuffle under the Freedom of Information Act, the Pentagon has released records detailing serious contamination on Okinawa base land slated soon for return to civilian use.
The FOIA release is believed to be the first time such comprehensive records regarding U.S. military contamination in Japan have been made public.
The 82-page package, which includes reports and memoranda from the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps, reveals mass deaths of sea life, burials of toxic chemicals and the possible exposure of base workers at U.S. Marine Corps Camp Kinser in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture. The documents also highlight the frustrations of the U.S. military as it struggles to tackle contamination in the face of previous inept cleanups and bureaucratic obstacles.
The documents, dating from the 1970s to 1990s, focus on a 46,000 sq.-meter outdoor chemical storage area located on the southern shoreline of Camp Kinser, formerly known as the Machinato — or Makiminato — Service Area. According to the reports, among the substances stored were “retrograde shipments from Vietnam,” including insecticides, herbicides and solvents.
In 1975, a large “fish kill” on the nearby coast prompted the U.S. Army Pacific Environmental Health Engineering Agency to conduct surveys of the sea and soil. The results “indicated high concentration of chlordane, DDT, malathion, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyl.”
The pesticides, chlordane and DDT, have both been banned due to health risks; dioxins and PCBs have long been recognized as harmful, and can remain dangerous for decades when buried.
Subsequent tests on Camp Kinser in 1977 also revealed high levels of carcinogenic heavy metals, including lead and cadmium.
According to the FOIA-released records, in an attempt to mitigate the contamination, large quantities of the stockpiled chemicals were buried or “flushed” on the base — including sludge from neutralized cyanide compounds, inorganic acids and alkalis and 12.5 tons of ferric chloride. Pesticides were also buried at Camp Hansen in the town of Kin.
However, the reports suggest these cleanup efforts were unsuccessful. In the mid-1980s, during a civilian landfill project, toxins again seeped from the base, resulting in the further death of marine life.
Documents written by military personnel in the 1980s and 1990s reveal their dissatisfaction with predecessors’ remediation attempts. Labeling the surveys “superficial” and “cursory,” they criticize the lack of follow-up checks and the failure to record whether the contaminated soil was ever removed from the installation.