Yokota Air Base is the home of U.S. Forces Japan, 5th Air Force and the 374th Airlift Wing in western Tokyo.

Yokota Air Base is the home of U.S. Forces Japan, 5th Air Force and the 374th Airlift Wing in western Tokyo. (Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Firefighting suppressant with toxic PFAS was spilled three times at the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo between 2010 and 2012 but local authorities were informed only recently, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Wednesday.

The Kanto Defense Bureau — an arm of Japan’s Ministry of Defense — alerted Tokyo officials about the spills on Tuesday, according to a statement on the metro government’s website. It does not say when the Air Force informed the bureau about the incidents.

PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are commonly found in household products such as electronics, paint or water-repellent clothing, as well as fire extinguishing foam widely used at locations such as airports, factories and military bases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

PFAS chemicals “break down very slowly and can build up in people, animals and the environment over time,” according to the EPA. Current research shows high levels of exposure can lead to fertility issues, developmental effects, increased risks of cancers and other health concerns.

The Yokota spills occurred in January 2010 at a hangar and in October and November 2012 from a metal barrel and storage container, according to the metro government’s statement.

U.S. officials told the defense bureau that they don’t think chemicals escaped the base, the statement said.

The metro government “expressed regret” that it wasn’t told of the spills soon after they happened and officials asked for more information from the Defense Ministry, according to the statement.

A spokesman for the base did not immediately respond to emailed questions about the leaks Thursday.

The fire suppression systems at Yokota that held PFAS are no longer in service as part of wider effort to replace those systems with materials other than PFAS at U.S. air bases across Japan.

“All our PFAS systems have already been locked out so they can’t be used,” Col. Andrew Roddan, commander of the base and its 374th Airlift Wing, told reporters on June 26.

Yokota will begin to replace that equipment during the next fiscal year, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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