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SECURITY > Okinawa

U.S. military conceals PFOS contamination even on base

  • June 11, 2021
  • , Okinawa Times , p. 27
  • JMH Translation

The 2016 report (top) details the concentration of PFOS and other substances in drinking water and says that “a foam extinguishing agent is the likely source of contamination.” But the 2017 report (bottom) changed the description to “man-made chemical; used in products to make stain, grease, and heat and water resistant.”

By Jon Mitchell, special correspondent


The U.S. military authorities are concealing the information that the drinking water on a base is contaminated with perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) from U.S. service members stationed in Okinawa and their family members, according to documents obtained by the Okinawa Times.


The report on the quality of drinking water posted by Kadena Air Base on its website in 2016 details the concentration of PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and cited a foam extinguishing agent as the likely source of contamination. But in the report issued the following year, the base did not mention the agent and obscured the likely source of contamination by writing [“man-made chemical; used in products to make ] stain, grease, and heat and water resistant.”


In the latest report issued in 2019, all references to PFOA and PFOS are removed. It appears that the military authorities are hiding contamination even from “persons concerned” in a bid to deny that a foam extinguishing agent used by the military is the source of contamination.  


According to the internal emails exchanged within the military that were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, in 2016, senior Kadena base officials were concerned about how servicemembers with small children would react if they learned they are drinking water contaminated with PFOS. After several rounds of communication among the senior officials, the base decided to post a message guaranteeing the safety of drinking water on its official website.


In the process of coming up with the message, one senior official of the Air Force mentioned the case in which a lot of buried drums containing hazardous substances were found in the soccer field adjacent to an on-base school in the Moromizato district of Okinawa City in 2013. Back then, the U.S. Air Force also posted an announcement downplaying the health risks of dioxin found in the drums. Also, some internal emails of the U.S. military exchanged in 2016 show an environment engineer of the Air Force saying, “PFOS fun” to make light of the pollution issue.


The Okinawa Times asked the U.S. military authorities for comment but has received no response as of June 10.


In the emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in 2016, an unnamed environment engineer of the U.S. Air Force said, “PFOS fun.”


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