ONNA, Okinawa — Japan is planning to build a disposal facility for toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at an Air Self-Defense Force base in this central Okinawa village.

A senior Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau representative met with Onna officials recently to brief them on the project and seek their approval for storing about 1,800 drums of PCB waste — about 300 tons — discovered when a former U.S. communications site in the city was returned in 1996.

PCBs are oily compounds used as coolants and lubricants in a wide range of electrical equipment, including transformers and capacitors. They are good insulators and do not burn easily. Products that use PCBs included fluorescent lighting, electrical capacitors and hydraulic oils.

The facility also may be used to store PCBs found at other sites throughout Japan, a Defense Facilities official said.

But Mayor Fumiyasu Shikina said he is concerned about having such a facility in his village, a tourist destination on the East China Sea sometimes referred to as the “Gold Coast.”

Immediately after the Defense Facilities official’s visit, the mayor met with members of the village council, fishermen’s association and local community boards. Several said they preferred the PCB sludge be removed and dumped elsewhere.

Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the United States is not obligated to restore land to its original condition.

That means it falls to Japanese officials to handle anything left behind, including toxic waste, the Defense Facilities official said, noting the PCB sludge was not discovered until after the land was returned.

Part of the returned property now is being used as a Japan Air Self-Defense Force communications facility.

Defense Facilities conducted a three-year study of disposal methods and decided earlier this year that a decomposition method would be the best way to handle the PCBs found here. The agency will conduct an environmental assessment early next year.

PCBs were banned in the United States in 1977 after studies showed they did not break down easily when discarded.

They also were found to have caused health problems; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined prolonged exposure may cause cancer in humans.

The most common reactions to PCB exposure are skin rashes and acne, according to the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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