Read the full article by Jon Mitchell (The Asia-Pacific Journal)

Abstract: “Persistent in the environment, bio accumulative in animals and humans, and toxic at low levels, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are associated with serious health problems including cancers, hormone imbalance and harm to the immune system. One of the most widespread uses of PFAS has been in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a firefighting product linked to widespread contamination at Department of Defense (DoD) installations in the United States. Whereas the DoD has investigated – and in some cases remediated – this problem within the United States, in Japan, host to 78 US military facilities, there has been no such transparency. Civilian checks near DoD bases, notably in Okinawa Prefecture, have detected elevated PFAS levels in waterways, soil, residents’ blood and the drinking water supplied to 450,000 people. But US military officials insist there is no proof that its bases are responsible for the environmental problems and they have denied requests from local authorities to conduct on-base checks. This article assesses the most serious environmental threats to Japan and Okinawa associated with PFAS and other chemicals originating at US bases. One method to overcome these obstacles to understanding the threat is the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Internal reports obtained by the author under FOIA reveal that US military operations have been polluting Okinawa and mainland Japan with PFAS via three principal pathways: (1) firefighter training; (2) accidental leaks of AFFF; and (3) disposal of AFFF. Contamination dates from the 1970s and is ongoing; PFAS has spread into neighboring communities, impacting drinking water supplies, and the problem has been exacerbated by negligent handling and disposal of AFFF stocks. This paper concludes with a discussion of how the problem can be further researched and ways to remediate both the contamination and the opacity of US-Japan environmental agreements which allow the US military to suppress information about incessant environmental damage.