Agent Orange stored and used at Okinawa bases

August 09, 2011

By SATOSHI OKUMURA / Staff Writer

NAHA-The U.S. military stored the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange, used to devastating effect in the Vietnam War, at its bases in Okinawa Prefecture and sprayed it as weed-killer at some of its facilities, according to a British journalist.

This revelation raises the possibility of extreme soil contamination at U.S. bases in Okinawa and questions about the health of residents living in areas around the military facilities, Jon Mitchell told a symposium in the prefecture on Aug. 8.

The U.S. forces dumped 72 million liters of Agent Orange, which contains dioxin, over forests in Vietnam during the 1960-1975 Vietnam War.

Vietnamese still suffer from the effects of the chemical defoliant, which resulted in soaring cases of cancer and birth defects. It also remains a serious environmental problem.

Mitchell said his findings are based on interviews with about 20 veterans, including former U.S. Marines who were posted to Okinawa. He has been interviewing ex-servicemen since January.

Mitchell, 36, is based in Yokohama and writes on issues concerning U.S. bases in Okinawa and social problems in Japan for English-language newspapers.

He told the symposium, and during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, that drums of Agent Orange were transported to U.S. bases in Okinawa and elsewhere from the U.S. mainland.

He said the practice began in the mid-1960s and that the defoliant was stored at nine U.S. military facilities, including Kadena Air Base, until the mid-1970s, even after the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan.

Mitchell said a 61-year-old veteran who was stationed at Camp Kinser in Urasoe as a member of a logistics unit, and other veterans told him that thousands of drums of Agent Orange were stockpiled at the camp.

He said they told him the drums were later transported to Kadena Air Base in Kadena, the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan and Naha Port in Naha for eventual shipment to Vietnam by military aircraft and the U.S. Navy.

Some facilities such as the Awase Communication Station in Okinawa City routinely sprayed Agent Orange as a herbicide within the facilities. Some quantities were given to local residents in exchange for sake and other goods, the former military personnel were quoted as saying.

Mitchell called for an immediate third-party environmental assessment of those facilities.

Soil in the facilities that stockpiled the chemical defoliant was highly likely contaminated, he said.

There are concerns, he said, that the health of not only workers at those facilities and residents in surrounding communities back then, but also employees and residents today in those areas, may have been affected by Agent Orange.

U.S. military authorities, citing the absence of official records, have denied introducing chemical defoliant into facilities in Okinawa, Mitchell said.

An official at the Okinawa prefectural government’s Military Base Affairs Division said it is regrettable if the defoliant was used at U.S. bases.

The prefectural government will consider how to respond to the matter, the official said.

By SATOSHI OKUMURA / Staff Writer
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