Okinawa to test water near popular beach for Agent Orange
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2011
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The local government here said Friday it will test water near a popular public beach for traces of Agent Orange following allegations by a U.S. veteran that barrels of herbicide were buried in the area during the Vietnam War.
Testing will focus on a waterway that empties into the ocean between Araha Beach and Chatan park, recreation land that was once the U.S. Army’s Hamby Airfield and is nearby two Marine Corps bases, a spokesman for Chatan city government said.
An unnamed Army veteran told the Japan Times last month that he took part in burying dozens of barrels of Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide linked to cancer and other serious health problems, on the former Army land in 1969.
The U.S. government and U.S. Forces Japan have repeatedly denied that Agent Orange was ever present on the island.
“The survey, which is expected to start in January, will be mainly water testing, taking water samples from three different locations in a nearby river,” a spokesman for Chatan city said.
The Hamby airfield was decommissioned in 1981 and eventually redeveloped into one of the island’s most popular beaches and tourist attractions, which are a short walk from Marine Corps headquarters on Camp Foster as well as a hospital and family housing on Camp Lester.
Magnetic surveys and soil sampling were done when the property was redeveloped and there were no reports of the herbicides being discovered, according to the city.
“It has been about 30 years since the redevelopment and until this day there has been no report of any health damages from the local communities,” the spokesman said.
The claims have raised some doubts among city officials because the site identified by the veteran appears to be the former runway of Hamby Airfield. It would be unlikely that soldiers were ordered to stop air traffic and bury barrels of herbicide on or near the runway, according to the spokesman.
The unnamed veteran told the newspaper that the barrels were offloaded from a transport ship that had run aground and were then buried in a 150-foot trench on the old airfield.
The exact location of the alleged trench is now uncertain because the area has been transformed by growth in recent decades, the newspaper said.
The former soldier is one of more than 20 veterans who have recently claimed Agent Orange was sprayed or stored on Okinawa in the 1960s and early 1970s when the military was still using it to kill vegetation as part of the war effort in Southeast Asia.
Similar allegations of Agent Orange use have also recently surfaced in South Korea and Guam.
Vietnam War-era veterans have claimed herbicide use in those areas have caused long-term health problems that are not being covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
They say the VA is unfairly barring their claims because the military refuses to admit the dangerous herbicide was stored or used in those countries.
The VA does provide disability compensation and health care benefits to veterans who can prove they are exposed to Agent Orange and have herbicide-linked illnesses that include leukemia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, lung cancer and heart disease.