For military personnel and families living on bases in mainland Japan, Okinawa and South Korea, the ease of finding out what’s in the drinking water depends on where they’re stationed.

Some Pacific bases provide annual drinking water quality reports to residents. Others notify the public only when there’s a problem.

The Air Force is the most forthcoming service, publishing annual “consumer confidence” reports that list what contaminants were found and explaining in simple terms what those findings mean.

Most importantly, the report attempts to answer the question: “Is my water safe?”

But for the rest of the Pacific bases, finding similar information can be hit or miss.

Navy, Army and Marine officials from various installations reported that no agency requires them to publish routine water quality reports.

“We only notify the public when there is a problem, as required by the [Japan Environmental Governing Standards],” according to an e-mail response from Commander Naval Forces Japan environmental officials.

The Japan Environmental Governing Standards is U.S. Forces Japan guidance for environmental compliance in Japan, combining U.S. and Japanese laws, with the more protective standard enforced, according to CNFJ.

U.S. Forces Japan does not require component commands to provide reports concerning drinking water testing, USFJ spokesman Master Sgt. Terence Peck said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Following EPA standardsWhile each Defense Department installation is responsible for compliance with environmental, safety and health laws and regulations, there is no DOD requirement for an installation to submit a water quality report to base residents, Peck said.

The Air Force, in requiring its bases to compile a water quality report, follows U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, even though EPA has no jurisdiction overseas, Peck said.

All U.S. military bases in Japan, however, must notify USFJ and base personnel when a DOD water system is confirmed to be out of compliance by retesting or other means, a stipulation of the 2006 Japan Environmental Governing Standards, Peck said.

USFJ also coordinates notification with Japanese government authorities in cases where off-post populations are at risk, he said.

Even at bases that don’t publish water quality reports, some information can be obtained by asking for it.

At Navy bases in Japan, the base environmental office or the utilities office can provide some information about base water quality, CNFJ officials said in a written statement. Anyone wanting a complete report, however, will have to file a Freedom of Information Act request through CNFJ’s legal office, they said.

How much can be understood from those reports is uncertain, since most bases aren’t required to write a consumer confidence report on water quality.

Sasebo Naval Base, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, for example, provided a summary report to Stars and Stripes that listed raw data of water quality testing but without context.

The Navy tests water quarterly. The only recent problem detected was at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, near Tokyo, where trichloroethylene (TCE) was found at a level above the maximum allowed, according to CNFJ officials.

They said in an e-mail: “This was a one-time occurrence, and was caused by a temporary shutdown of the TCE stripping towers. The water has been retested and there are currently no problems.”

TCE can break down a person’s nervous system and damage the liver and kidneys.

Water is clean and safe at all CNFJ bases except at Diego Garcia, where there have been issues with trihalomethanes, officials said. Water there must be micro-filtered to meet safe drinking standards.

At Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, near Hiroshima, there’s no drinking water report yet available to the public.

“We have plans to publish reports starting in August,” base spokesman Maj. Billy Canedo said.

‘Close to pure’Iwakuni’s water comes from the mountains and is processed by the city of Iwakuni, Canedo said. The base environmental office reports “this is a close to pure water as you’re going to get.”

At U.S. Army Japan bases, water is tested quarterly, according to Maj. James Crawford, U.S. Army Japan spokesman. The water passes all Japanese and U.S. federal standards, including EPA, he said.

No recent problems with the drinking water have been reported, he said, adding that test reports are not published because there is no requirement to do so.

The Navy and Marine Corps operate two small facilities in South Korea.

At Chinhae Naval Base, there is “no regular posting of good water quality results and only a public notification of non-compliance when the base exceeds maximum contaminant levels,” officials said.

The reports will be made available to anyone who requests them through the command, according to Navy officials.

At the Marine’s Camp Mu Juk, all military and civilian workers drink bottled water provided by the government.

Army bases in South Korea fall under the Installation Management Command-Korea.

Army officials said they regularly test the water supply and provide an annual report to garrison environmental offices. Community members can request a copy of the report from the environmental offices, officials said.

If a problem is discovered, “garrisons take a proactive approach to providing a safe and reliable water supply and make every effort to immediately inform community members,” officials said.

Earlier this year, housing residents at Hannam Village — a Yongsan Garrison housing compound — and the nearby Army Corps of Engineers Compound were warned that a monthly water test showed a spike in mercury levels.

Garrison officials told residents not to drink the water or use it for cooking or brushing their teeth. Several 1,000-gallon water trucks were placed on the compound and officials held a town hall meeting to discuss the issue.

Follow-up testing showed no mercury spike and officials called the first results an anomaly.

Stars and Stripes reporter T.D. Flack contributed to this report.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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