By Naoko Taketani
On Dec. 1, 2020, a meeting was held at the House of Representatives building to inform the public of water pollution from organic fluorine compounds and the effect of these compounds on the human body. It has been said that organofluorides are carcinogenic and have adverse effects on growth. U.K. journalist Jon Mitchell, an Okinawa Times correspondent who has covered this issue for many years, gave a talk. On the issue of leaks of such compounds being indicated at U.S. military bases in Japan, Mitchell called on the bases to allow Japanese authorities to conduct on-site surveys.
Organic fluorine compounds have been used since the 1950s in such items as fire extinguishers, fluoroplastic coating on frying pans, and cosmetics. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants currently ban the manufacture, sale, and use of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), both of which are types of organofluorides. Calling these substances the “forever chemicals,” Mitchell explained that the substances “remain in the soil for over 1,000 years” and that people are exposed to them through contaminated food and water.
According to Mitchell, over 3,000 liters of foam extinguisher containing PFOS leaked into the soil at Yokota Air Base between 2010 and 2017. A Tokyo Metropolitan Government survey detected high levels of both PFOS and PFOA in wells around the base. Level of PFOS exceeding the benchmark values set by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in April 2020 were detected at water treatment plants in Kokubunji and Fuchu until 2019.
Mitchell touched on the state of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and said that “the U.S. government recognizes pollution [from these substances] at 651 U.S. military bases and facilities within the U.S., but does not recognize pollution at the 78 U.S. military bases and zones in Japan.” Mitchell pointed out that the Japanese side cannot pinpoint the cause of the pollution because it does not have access privileges to survey the sites. Mitchell said that “the U.S. military should grant [the Japanese government] access to the bases.”
With respect to COVID-19, Mitchell said that a Harvard University study suggested that having a high level of organic fluorine compounds in the system increases the severity [of COVID-19].
The meeting was hosted by the Japan Endocrine-Disruptor Preventive Action, a nonprofit organization. About 20 Diet members from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) attended.