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Japanese report: No evidence of Agent Orange in barrels on Okinawa

Inside a plastic-draped tent on Jan. 28, 2014, Japan Ministry of Defense workers examine a badly rusted drum unearthed from a soccer field near Kadena Air Base schools where 22 dioxin- and herbicide-laced barrels were found last year. A Japanese government report released in July concluded that there was no evidence the empty chemical barrels contained Agent Orange.

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — There is no evidence that dozens of empty chemical drums, unearthed last year on former U.S. military property, contained the toxic defoliant Agent Orange, according to a Japanese government report.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau of the Ministry of Defense tested the final 61 of 83 barrels that were unearthed from land adjacent to the Kadena Air Base fence line. While it found they contained ingredients used in Agent Orange, they were of the incorrect consistency and quantities, leading officials to believe they were to be used as a common herbicide.

The defense bureau also reiterated that it was unlikely that the barrels were a health risk. Tests have shown the air and water, on and off base, are safe.

“There is no evidence that the barrels contained Agent Orange,” the report said. It was posted on the defense bureau’s website earlier this month. “The soil samples that found dioxins and herbicides were taken from immediately beneath the barrels. It is highly unlikely that the ground in the vicinity area is polluted with dioxins of higher levels.

“Also, the soil collected this time was taken from the depth that no human beings are directly exposed to. Therefore there is little possibility that the polluted soil has impact on surrounding environment.”

U.S. Air Force officials said they were still analyzing the report but planned to comment on its findings and release an English translation of its executive summary on Facebook andkadena.af.mil/, according to an 18th Wing spokesman.

The barrels caused a stir when they were found buried under a soccer field on land reclaimed from Kadena. The field is separated from Kadena’s Amelia Earhart Intermediate School and its playground by a raised expressway. The Bob Hope Primary School and the Kadena middle and high schools are nearby.

The U.S. military’s position has been that Agent Orange, which defoliated jungles during the Vietnam War and has been blamed for a slew of health problems in veterans, was never stored, shipped through or used on Okinawa. A study commissioned by the DOD has backed that assertion. The military discontinued use of Agent Orange in the early 1970s.

Some veterans who served on Okinawa during the war have claimed they witnessed its use and burial on the island but have been unable to convince the Department of Veterans Affairs to approve medical claims for exposure.

Agent Orange was made up of two major components, the chemical compounds 2,4-D butyl ester and 2,4,5-T butyl ester, mixed at a 50-50 ratio, Japanese officials said.

Last year, Japanese officials found 2,4,5-T, in 22 barrels that were unearthed from the site. The report said 2,4-D was found in the subsequently exhumed 61 barrels.

However, that doesn’t mean Agent Orange was found.

The two base ingredients are common pesticides and herbicides that were widely used around the world for decades, but they were not mixed with solvents that would indicate they were going to be used in Agent Orange, and they were free from markings indicating use in Agent Orange. In addition, there was much more 2,4,5-T than 2,4-D, which led Japanese officials to believe they were meant for something else, like an herbicide.

The report also indicated the barrels contained other pollutants such as the herbicide pentachlorophenol, gasoline or another fossil fuel, the insecticide DDT and polychlorinated biphenyl.

The depth of the barrels indicates they were most likely buried by the U.S. military after it took the area during World War II and before 1988, a year after the Japanese reclaimed the land.

Traces of dioxins were detected in water samples in the area where the barrels were found but at levels below environmental standards, the report said.

“Therefore, it is quite unlikely that the buried barrels have had an impact on the environment or created a health hazard,” Okinawa City Mayor Sachio Kuwae at a news conference earlier this month.

Kuwae said deeper excavation is planned to ensure there was no further contamination.

Air Force officials have said base drinking water meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards; it comes from a commercial Japanese source not connected with the area groundwater.

burke.matt@stripes.com

sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com

 

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