A US army base in Japan is allegedly contaminating drinking water with substances such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (aka PFAS) that are linked to cancer.
Half a million people living in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture consume the drinking water, which amounts to a third of the prefecture’s population.
Over 20,000 Japanese and American employees are housed in the American military base. It is thought they are the ones contaminating the waters with PFAS.
The situation is being called the ‘worst case of environmental contamination in the island’s history.’
PFAS are used to produce food wrapping, nonstick cookware, and military firefighting foams. The substances are virtually indestructible by nature. They accumulate in the body and take decades to expel, according to The Diplomat.
According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, health problems linked to PFAS include cancer of the testicles and kidneys, high cholesterol, and decreased vaccine response.
The problem first came to public knowledge in 2016 after authorities tested the water in Okinawa and discovered unusually high amounts of PFAS near the army base. Further investigations near the base found increased contamination in the spring water, fish, and farmers’ fields.
The levels were almost double the recommended amount at 120 parts per trillion when they should be nearer 70 parts per trillion.
Although the discoveries were made five years ago, the issue is still there. Investigations carried out by a team of Kyoto University researchers found people living close to the base were suffering from liver-related problems and high cholesterol levels – two of the known side effects of PFAS exposure, according to The Globe Post.
The US military is usually allowed to police itself when it comes to environmental compliance. Its bases are not subject to Japanese laws, according to the Diplomat.
However, in April this year, Japanese officials were allowed to inspect the base when a barbecue party held by marines triggered a hangar’s sprinkler system, causing 140,000 litres of PFAS firefighting foam and water to spill off the base.
The ordeal was highlighted again last year when Poisoning the Pacific: The US Military’s Secret Dumping of Plutonium, Chemical Weapons, and Agent Orange, by Jon Mitchell, was released in October 2020. The book evidences more than 12,000 pages of documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).