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More than 49,000 pounds of old electrical equipment and oil containing hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have been flown out of Japan for a stateside destination, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Tokyo confirmed Tuesday.

The shipment left Friday from Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. It was to be flown to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., according to a news release on the Defense Logistics Agency Web site. Waste then is to be delivered to an Environmental Protection Agency-permitted treatment facility in Pell City, Ala.

DLA provides for treating and disposing of U.S. military hazardous materials and waste.

The shipment was part of almost 2.8 million pounds of PCB-tainted electrical transformers and insulated cables being stored at Sagami Depot on mainland Japan and Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

Spokeswoman Judith Bryan said the airlift consisted of 49,333 pounds.

The materials were flown aboard aboard an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft, said U.S. Forces-Japan spokesman Maj. Eric Butterbaugh.

“There will be additional shipments, but we don’t know when,” Bryan said Tuesday. “We plan to ship all the PCB materials we have.”

Japan has no government-approved disposal sites for PCBs, a highly heat-resistant man-made chemical used to insulate electrical apparatus such as capacitors, voltage regulators and electric cable.

PCB production was banned in the United States in 1977 after the material was found to be carcinogenic.

The PCB-containing materials managed by U.S. forces in Japan essentially are byproducts of infrastructure built over many years by U.S. forces, and by Japan for use by U.S. forces.

At an August briefing, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said 2.8 million pounds were ready to be removed from Japan. An estimated 4.3 million pounds of material still are used at U.S. bases in Japan. The material will be removed from service during the next several years, U.S. EPA officials have said.

Bryan said long-term storage of PCB-tainted materials is in warehouses in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. Additional materials are in temporary storage at other U.S. bases in Japan.

She said 791,000 pounds of PCB-tainted material is in storage at Sagamihara, but PCBs are “a minute percentage of the total weight.” For instance, a transformer can weigh thousands of pounds but contain just a few ounces of PCBs.

She added that the U.S. government is committed to responsibly disposing of those materials “in an environmentally sound manner.”

PCB-contaminated wastes removed from U.S. military bases in Japan garnered media interest in 2002 when Canada’s government denied entry to 14 containers containing 110 tons of waste headed for a Canadian recycling center.

Seattle teamsters and stevedores refused to unload the containers when the ship carrying the PCBs arrived there. Environmental groups threatened to sue; then-Washington state Gov. Gary Locke demanded written guarantees from the Defense Department that the waste would be removed from the state.

After Guam officials asked Washington that the shipment not be sent to that island, the containers finally were stored on Wake Island, a U.S. possession in the central Pacific.

“They’re still stored on Wake,” Bryan said.


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