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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Rusted car batteries. Half-used propane tanks. Old household paint and jet fuel.

The base’s new $3.5 million Joint Hazardous Waste Storage Facility was built for materials that nobody wants but, nonetheless, require the utmost care.

The Air Force and the Navy jointly operate the site, where industrial hazardous waste from the base is stored temporarily, packaged and labeled for disposal before leaving Misawa.

Funded through the Japanese Facilities Improvement Program, the building became fully operational earlier this year.

Air Force and Navy officials say the facility greatly improves how the base disposes of hazardous materials — a plus for both the environment and base residents.

“It adds continuity and consistency,” said environmental engineer Brent S. Hefty, Misawa’s Air Force hazardous waste program manager.

The seven-year project grew from Defense Department efforts to improve compliance with environmental regulations on military bases worldwide, said Paul Teasley, director of Misawa Naval Air Facility’s Environmental Department.

In Japan, the military adheres to both U.S. and Japanese environmental standards.

Lead-acid batteries (car batteries) and flammable liquids such as paint, oil and jet fuel commonly are processed at the facility. Last year the Air Force disposed of 600,000 pounds of hazardous materials at Misawa, Hefty said, noting that most of that was contaminated waste water and sludge from a project to clean oil and water separators.

The base turns over industrial waste to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, which handles disposal of all government property on Misawa. The materials must be properly packaged in drums or other secure holding devices and labeled for DRMO; DRMO hires contractors to transport and dispose of the refuse in Tokyo or nearby Aomori Prefecture, officials said.

Before the joint facility opened, Navy and Air Force hazardous waste was processed through different channels en route to DRMO. The Navy packaged its industrial waste in a supply warehouse that didn’t meet the standards for such a facility, Teasley said.

The building “wasn’t designed for that specific purpose,” he said.

On the Air Force side, individual shops handled their own hazardous waste, securing the materials and hauling them across base. Hefty said safe procedures were followed then, but processing waste products from a central location that employs trained personnel significantly reduces the potential for error.

Teasley said the new facility should save the Air Force and Navy about $250,000 annually in transportation and disposal costs. Two contractors staff the Air Force side, while the Navy employs a sailor and a master labor contractor.

Facility is open to the public

Misawa Air Base’s Joint Hazardous Waste Storage Facility (Building 977) is open to the public. Base residents can dispose of barbecue grill propane tanks at the site, free of charge, or pick up a used tank for personal use. Drop-off hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays

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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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