Okinawans Express Alarm and Frustration over U.S. Military’s Contamination of the Island’s Water Supply
Residents of Okinawa, Japan held a well-attended conference at Tedako Hall in Urasoe on March 6, 2020 to listen to an address by SAKURAI Kunitoshi. The title of the event was “A Citizens Gathering to Protect the Lives of People from PFAS-Polluted Water.” Sakurai sounded an alarm over the contamination of the island’s water system by U.S. military bases.
Drinking water in Okinawa is heavily contaminated with PFOS and other harmful compounds recklessly discarded by the Americans.
The meeting came together to lay out the facts of the contamination and to organize resistance to ongoing PFAS contamination from US military bases. Activists are planning to hold a series of events in an effort to move Okinawan and Japanese authorities to take steps to protect human health from the ravages of PFAS contamination.
Drinking water in Okinawa is heavily contaminated with PFOS and other harmful compounds recklessly discarded by the Americans. Meanwhile, the US military is unwilling to acknowledge or discuss the problem. The drinking water of 450,000 people is poisoned there.
Professor Sakurai has been speaking out on the U.S. military’s contamination of the island’s precious water resources. A section from his initial remarks are captured here. He is struck by Okinawa’s political impotence. Okinawa is caught between a rock (Japan) and a hard place (the U.S.). Neither side of the vice is willing to listen to the demands of Okinawans for clean water.
Okinawa hosts about two-thirds of the dedicated U.S.-only bases in Japan despite accounting for less than 1 percent of the country's land.
Sakurai launched into an explanation of the legal standoff that leaves Okinawa defenseless while its citizens consume water tainted with PFAS contaminants many times higher than what many U.S. states allow. “Four years ago, he said, “The newspaper Ryūkyū Shimpō ran an article about the PFAS problem. That was the beginning. They said, “There is a problem with PFAS pollution. The Okinawa Prefectural Enterprise Bureau is not allowed onto the base to investigate it.”
“And what has happened since then?” he asked. “Four years have passed and still Okinawan government officials are not allowed in. I think we must continue to ask why.”
Professor Sakurai explained the legal impasse. “What is blocking Okinawan authorities from entering Kadena is Article 3, Section 1 of the U.S. - Japan Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA. I’m sure all of you here are aware of what the SOFA represents. Article 3, Section 1 is about “exclusive management rights.”
Japanese government officials are not allowed to do any on-the-spot investigations without the permission of the U.S. government, which is not forthcoming. The Pentagon consistently refuses to comment and that is because it doesn’t have to.
Sakurai implored his audience, “Everyone, please think about this for a moment. The Government of Okinawa Prefecture has compared the SOFAs of one country with another, including those of Japan, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the U.K. They even went to the Philippines, and then to Australia. They were supposed to go to South Korea, too, but due to the coronavirus crisis there, nobody was able to go. In any event, when you line them up like this, you see that Japan is the only country where the nation’s laws do not apply to the bases. And Japan is the only country that is not explicitly given the right of entry.”
The esteemed academic summarized the untenable political situation in the following way: “This undefined is viewed as natural in Japan, isn’t it? Since the bases are concentrated in Okinawa, people in other parts of Japan could not care less. I think that is the essence of what is going on.”
Sakurai underlined the fact that when one compares SOFAs with other US-client states, it becomes obvious that Japan is not a sovereign nation.
[The following is a translation of the Japanese slide above].
Okinawans, as well as Japanese throughout the mainland, are learning how their water is being poisoned by the U.S. military. This slide refers to Pat Elder’s 15th, 2019 article entitled, “The PFAS Contamination Crisis: US Military Poisons Hundreds of Communities,” which is at the World BEYOND War website (https://worldbeyondwar.org/the-pfas-contamination-crisis-us-military-poisons-hundreds-of-communities/). The slide says, “We find in this article these words: ‘Harvard scientists say 1 ppt of PFAS in drinking water may be harmful.’”
[Translation of the Japanese in the slide above:]
As part of an investigation of ground water that was conducted for the industrial-waste disposal industry of Kurashiki, Okinawa in the Ikehara area of Okinawa during the 2018 year, the Okinawa Department of Environmental Affairs learned that a high concentration of PFOS/PFOA had been discovered at multiple inspected locations. The concentration of PFOA was particularly high. According to the Okinawa Prefectural Office, the ground water of the area is used for agriculture, so some have voiced concern that the PFOA may damage human health (from Ryūkyū Shimpō newspaper, 23 May 2018).
Special thanks to Joseph Essertier for his translations and commentary.