Construction near the flight line at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa is believed to be behind recent positive bacteria tests in a water system feeding more than 40 buildings on the base.

Construction near the flight line at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa is believed to be behind recent positive bacteria tests in a water system feeding more than 40 buildings on the base. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Air Force officials are urging caution after the discovery of bacteria in a water system servicing 43 buildings on Kadena Air Base.

Total coliform bacteria, found this week in eight of 12 samples, was attributed to a temporary water line at a construction site near the base’s expansive flight line, base officials said. The bacteria is naturally present and generally not harmful; however, it is a known indicator for more serious pollutants including fecal contamination.

Civil engineers are flushing the system while they review the project, and bioenvironmental engineers are performing increased sampling, Air Force officials said. Further testing has come back negative for the more harmful fecal coliform, E. coli.

The issue is expected to be resolved in the next couple of days.

“The drinking water on Kadena AB has been consistently safe and in compliance with all applicable drinking water standards,” 18th Wing spokesman Staff Sgt. Alexy Saltekoff wrote in a statement provided to Stars and Stripes. “This has been proven through the year-round results of a comprehensive water testing program.”

The discovery came during assessment of a construction project near Bldg. 718, an Air Force statement said. The samples that tested positive came from Bldg. 718, and two service connections next door. The buildings that were potentially affected are all work centers, Saltekoff said.

One, Bldg. 714, is used to house personnel attending the Kadena Noncommissioned Officers Academy. No children stay there. None of the other buildings include family housing, schools or work centers.

Despite the low risk, base officials suggested that people working and living in the affected buildings boil water before drinking even though it is not required by the EPA.

The pathogens often associated with the bacteria can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and could lead to more serious health problems with at-risk groups, including those with compromised immune systems, the young and the elderly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Air Force officials said they maintain strict standards when it comes to the bacteria: two positive tests in a month will trigger mitigation.

It’s the second time in six months that Kadena has had a water issue. In May, lead was discovered in water fountains at a Department of Defense Education Activity building used to screen children for developmental issues.

Kadena’s water is treated and purchased locally, Saltekoff said. Kadena officials said they check 924 samples annually and test for bacteria every week with a minimum of 41 samples taken per month.

When a sample comes back as containing a contaminant, base officials immediately take to social media and their website with updates. Base officials said the notices do not necessarily mean the water is harmful.

For more information, contact Bioenvironmental Engineering at 634-4752 or visit

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Grafenwoehr, Germany, for Stars and Stripes since 2024. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Okinawa, Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the news organization. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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