Japan Agrees to Pay for Disposal of Contaminated Wastewater from Okinawa Marine Air Base

Japanese officials collected samples of treated sewage at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan, July 19, 2021 (US Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Japan’s Defense Ministry has agreed to temporarily take over the disposal of contaminated sewage from a Marine Corps airbase in central Okinawa, according to a ministry statement Friday.

The deal comes just weeks after the Marine Corps angered local officials for dumping an undisclosed amount of treated water from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan into the public sewage system on August 26.

About 95,000 gallons of water remain untreated in the air station’s underground tanks and also contain PFOS and PFOA contaminants from spilled fire extinguisher foam, public broadcaster NHK reported on Friday.

The Japanese government will incur a cost of approximately $ 825,000 for the disposal.

“It’s a step forward,” according to a tweet from Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Friday. Tamaki in his tweet points out that other US military installations on the island still maintain supplies of untreated sewage containing the toxic compounds.

“There is still a need to conduct an on-site investigation at Futenma and Kadena Air Base,” he said.

This is the first time that Japan has intervened to pay for the disposal of sewage from a US military base inside its borders, NHK reported. The ministry said it was a temporary emergency measure “in anticipation of the typhoon season”, which runs from June to October.

The fear is that heavy rains could overflow the reservoirs and contaminate the environment, according to the ministry’s statement. The United States and Japan will draw up “concrete” plans to repair the aircraft hangars at the base to prevent the influx of rainwater into the tanks.

The ministry did not respond to a request from Stars and Stripes for more information on Monday. Okinawa has requested in the past that contaminated sewage be incinerated.

PFOS and PFOA are synthetic compounds found in foam, aircraft grease, water repellent materials, and fluorochemicals. They are known to cause tumors, increased body and organ weight, and death in animals.

The Marine Corps said it treated the water before the Aug. 26 release to a point where its toxicity levels were 20 times below the tentative threshold set by Japan. Tamaki said at the time that he was caught off guard by the release and demanded that it stop.

Source testing by the city of Ginowan showed combined PFOS and PFOA levels that were 13 times higher than Japan’s provisional drinking water standard of 0.05 micrograms per liter. The prefectural government took samples further downstream later in the day and found lower levels of the contaminants, although they are still present, they said Thursday in results posted on their website.

The discharged sewage ends up reaching the ocean, according to the agency responsible for the island’s water quality.




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Matthew M. Burke



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