Kadena mayor files protest over smoke incident
Stars and Stripes December 16, 2004
KADENA, Okinawa — The mayor of Kadena Town filed a letter of protest with the commander of the 18th Wing on Monday about a Dec. 10 incident in which smoke from smoke canisters used in training drifted into a nearby school, causing classes to be suspended.
Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi delivered the letter, addressed to Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, to Col. Brent Baker, 18th Mission Support Group commander. Miyagi asked Jouas to take immediate actions to ensure against another such incident.
“The training is absolutely unacceptable when residents drain their patience to the limit,” Miyagi stated in the letter. “I therefore, demand an immediate halt to the training scheduled hereafter and moving of the training site elsewhere.”
Moving the training site may not be an option, indicated Maj. Mike Paoli, chief of 18th Wing Public Affairs. But steps already have been taken to ensure similar incidents don’t occur. Before smoke is used in the future, Paoli said, one canister would be set off to ensure conditions are right for the smoke to dissipate.
“It comes down to what the best course of action is,” Paoli said. “In this case, the most viable option is to test the smoke against temperature and wind conditions prior to training. That’s a hard step now in our training procedures.
“We want to reduce community anxiety over the important training we do here at Kadena and adding the step should accomplish that.”
The smoke canisters also will be used as far away as possible from the base perimeter, Paoli said. The training, to occur inside the Silver Flag area, takes place just nine to 12 times per year, he said.
The incident sparking the protest letter affected Okinawa Prefectural Kadena High School, which is near the ammunition storage area fence line. Pink smoke filled classrooms there and caused eye and throat irritation to about 200 students and teachers, according to Miyagi’s letter, adding that about 70 students on the school’s third floor had to evacuate their classrooms.
“The classes were suspended, causing panic among students,” the letter stated. “Some of them crouched on the floor while covering their noses and mouths with handkerchiefs.”
While Miyagi was told by the Air Force that the smoke is not harmful and is environmentally safe, he said the “anxieties and doubts the students experienced still remain with them.”
Paoli said, “We regret any interruption to Kadena Town high school that was caused by the drifting smoke.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.