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New soil tests ordered for Kadena school in wake of dioxin fears

Japan Ministry of Defense workers remove a drum Jan. 28, 2014, from a soccer field next to Amelia Earhart Intermediate School on Kadena Air Base where 22 dioxin- and herbicide-laced drums were unearthed last summer.

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The Air Force said Tuesday an independent U.S. lab will conduct a second round of soil tests at Kadena Air Base schools amid continuing public fear over the discovery of dioxin- and herbicide-laced drums nearby.

The announcement came during an Air Force public town hall meeting of about 100 base residents who were worried that more tainted barrels might be buried under base land or that children at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School might be exposed to pollutants.

The Japan Ministry of Defense on Tuesday began unearthing 12 more containers found at an off-base soccer field adjacent to Kadena Air Base schools; the same location where 22 buried Dow Chemical drums were discovered last summer.

Brig. Gen. James Hecker, commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena, said the base will begin taking new soil samples from along the fence line, low-lying areas and the playground at the Amelia Earhart school on Saturday.

The samples will include the top 6 inches of soil on the school grounds — the area most likely to come in contact with the students, the Air Force said.

“We are going to send this off to the United States to a contracted testing agency ... just to be quadruple sure,” Hecker said.

The results could be ready in about a month and will be made public, he said.

If any risky levels of pollutants are found, the base could decide to use magnetic imaging on the school grounds to find the source, according to the Air Force.

In-house Air Force testing of air and soil around Kadena schools earlier this month found no risky levels of pollution.

So far, environmental testing by Okinawa City, the prefecture and Japan Ministry of Defense found high levels of dioxin and herbicide inside some recovered drums. But all Japanese testing has concluded the hazardous materials from the drums had not spread to the soil in the soccer field or water in the area.

But new on-base soil tests were not enough to allay concerns of some parents who said the Air Force should immediately use magnetic imaging to see if any barrels are concealed under Amelia Earhart and the adjacent Bob Hope Primary School on the other side of the base security fence.

The Amelia Earhart school is about 200 yards from the Japanese soccer field and the two areas are separated by an elevated expressway and drainage culvert.

Many residents said they fear exposure to dioxin, a common pollutant linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage and hormone imbalances.

Testing also found the herbicide 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. The substance was an ingredient in a variety of U.S. commercial defoliants but was discontinued in 1985 because of concerns over dioxin contamination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The soccer field land was used by the Air Force until 1986, when it was returned to Okinawa control. The service said it believes the barrels and other recovered debris was part of fill used to elevate the soccer field site after the land was returned.

The Japan Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that a beverage bottle, car tire and other materials recovered along with the Dow Chemical drums were dated and traced to the 1980s and 1990s.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

 

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