The Yokota Community Center at Yokota Air Base, Japan, as seen on July 11, 2024.

The Yokota Community Center at Yokota Air Base, Japan, as seen on July 11, 2024. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The American and Japanese governments agreed to withhold from local authorities the details of a contaminated water spill last year at the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo, a Japanese newspaper reported Wednesday, citing unnamed officials.

The spill of around 167 gallons occurred at the receiving dock at the Yokota Community Center, where the base commissary and exchange are located, on Jan. 25, 2023, the Tokyo Shimbun reported.

The water, which flowed onto concrete, contained high levels of PFAS, short for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, according to the newspaper. PFAS, a class of chemicals used in nonstick coatings on cookware and in firefighting foam, is linked to an increased risk of certain tumors of the liver, testicles, breasts and pancreas, according to the American Cancer Society.

U.S. Forces Japan told Japan’s Ministry of Defense that “there was no leakage outside the base” because workers blocked a discharge outlet and mopped up the contaminated water, according to Tokyo Shimbun.

USFJ spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Wright in an email Thursday said the command “remains committed to protecting the health of our personnel, their families, and the surrounding communities in which we live and serve.

“We will continue to adhere to all relevant agreements, obligations and procedures as good stewards of our installations and environment through continued and close coordination with our [Government of Japan] counterparts.”

North Kanto Defense Bureau, a local office of Japan’s Defense Ministry, had not responded to a query about the spill as of Thursday.

U.S. officials reported seven leaks at Yokota between 2010 and 2022 to the ministry, which explained them to local governments, the newspaper reported.

However, U.S. and Japanese officials agreed not to publicly release information about the January 2023 spill, according to the newspaper.

The U.S. military provided information about the accident to the Japanese government at a meeting of the two nations’ Environment Subcommittee established under the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee in March, the newspaper reported.

The subcommittee was coordinating a release of information to local governments, but in a meeting last month, it agreed to withhold the accident details, the newspaper reported.

An official in charge of base affairs at Fussa city, which borders Yokota, on Wednesday declined to comment on the article. Some Japanese government officials are required to speak to media only on condition of anonymity.

In November, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, four cities and a town surrounding Yokota, including Fussa, asked the Japanese government for information about any leak that may have occurred at the community center, the Fussa official said.

The government responded that it was checking with the U.S. side, but the city had not received any information as of Wednesday, the official said.

Yukio Negiyama, the secretary general of a western Tokyo residents’ group concerned with PFAS contamination, told Stars and Stripes by phone Wednesday that the failure to disclose the January 2023 leak is unacceptable.

Many residents are concerned about the health risks of PFAS, and some are taking blood tests for the contaminants, he said.

Last month, USFJ denied claims in the Tokyo Shimbun of possible water contamination at Yokota as “inaccurate” and “regrettable.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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