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CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — The prefectural government is continuing to take “pot shots” at the U.S. military over a skeet range that was closed in 1999.

Despite three environmental studies by the United States and Japan showing no significant lead contamination of the area after 37 years of shooting at clay targets here, Okinawa wants to conduct its own environmental survey.

The U.S.-Japanese Joint Committee in Tokyo last month turned down the local government’s request for access to the area. Okinawa could use the rejection in its battle to change the status of forces agreement between the two countries, a high-ranking prefectural official told the Okinawa Times on Thursday.

Okinawa wants the SOFA changed to give Japan more control of the American military presence in Japan. Although the media spotlight has focused on the rights of American servicemembers charged with crimes under the Japanese legal system, the SOFA changes sought by Okinawa also extend to other areas, including access to the U.S. bases that cover one-fifth of the main island, according to prefectural documents presented to the U.S. and Japanese governments.

At issue at Camp Courtney is the estimated 40 tons of lead believed to be in the water and soil in the area of the former skeet range. Two environmental studies by the U.S. Marine Corps and an independent survey by Japan’s Defense Facilities Administration Agency showed the lead levels in the beach sand was 20 times lower than acceptable levels under U.S. environmental laws and 30 times lower than the Japanese standard.

Surveys tested lead levels in the soil, sand, ocean sediment and seaweed. They showed the hijike seaweed harvested locally for human consumption was safe, said Joe Vogel, environmental officer for Marine Corps bases on Okinawa.

“What we found out later is, that whatever the level of lead in the seaweed, it’s not readily or easily absorbed into the body,” Vogel said.

A senior Okinawa government official said continued monitoring of the area was necessary because lead still remained in the water and there was no testing of other marine life in the area.

“The surveys by the military and the DFAA were only on hijike seaweed, and they were only one-time sampling tests,” said Choki Kuba, director of the Military Affairs Office of the prefectural government. “But as much as 40 tons of lead are still sitting under the water.

“That’s why we feel that continued monitoring is needed,” he said. “The lead might eventually be transferred to the water and marine life, which is a concern among local fishermen.

“We are quite displeased with the rejection by the military of our request,” he said. “Until all the lead [is] removed, we will continue to request an access to the area to monitor and ensure the environmental safety.

“I hope the military understands our concern and will give its consent the next time we request access,” he said. He sidestepped questions concerning the SOFA issue.

Shokan Kudaka, deputy director of Okinawa’s Environmental Department, said the prefecture wants the removal of the lead from the water.

“To recover the lead from water, this is our ultimate desire,” he said. “As long as it is there, the fear of contamination remains.

“We are not requesting access to duplicate their tests,” Kudaka said. “We need to conduct tests on other sea creatures, such as shellfish and crabs.”

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