It seems that the region of Okinawa, one of Japan’s southernmost population centers, will always have a strained relationship with the United States military forces that reside there. With majority of the US military forces in the country stationed here, the local Japanese population has, over the years, grown wary and suspicious of the “intrusion” of these military personnel into their everyday lives – especially when the issue of public safety is in question. In June, it was the issue of toxic herbicides possibly stored in US military bases in Okinawa that caused concern among the local populace, something that Japan’s Ministry of Defense has now investigated.
According to data from the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau, components of Agent Orange have been found in old barrels that were dug up from underground on a piece of land that was once part of Kadena Air Base. Agent Orange was a toxic herbicide used to strip away jungle cover for enemy combatants during the Vietnam War. The toxic chemical was later linked to severe illnesses and birth defects among Vietnamese locals. Soil and water testing found the element “dioxin” and another harmful component of the notorious US military toxin in two dozen rusted containers – some of them marked with Dow Chemical Co.’s logo – discovered by Japanese construction crews at what is now a local soccer field in Okinawa City. The Dow Chemical Company was one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange used by the US military the Vietnam War.
The Okinawa bureau also said that while the testing proves the barrels contained some type of herbicide, only two of three chemical elements of Agent Orange have been specifically found, and so they cannot confirm that the notorious toxin was indeed present. The key component of Agent Orange – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic, a common herbicide that is still widely used – was not found at the site. Also, the drums seem to have been buried empty – they were at worst, used containers already by the time they were buried.
The United States government has categorically denied the presence of Agent Orange in Okinawa. The US Department of Defense said earlier this year that its own investigation only strengthens this denial, as no evidence of Agent Orange has been found. Japanese government officials have taken photos of the barrels and had the Dow Chemical Co. check the images. Last month, Dow Chemical said they did not match the type of containers used for Agent Orange. But the Okinawa bureau said that while Agent Orange presence can’t be confirmed, “dioxin” was still found from samples inside the barrels as well as from the surrounding soil and water. Dioxin is a highly toxic pollutant that can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage and hormone imbalances, according to the World Health Organization. The safety of the Okinawan population may still be at risk, even if it is not from Agent Orange.
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