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article imageDeadly legacy of Agent Orange spreads to Japan

By Anne Sewell     Jun 16, 2012 in Environment
Okinawa - U.S. veterans have told the Japan Times that the Marine Corps buried a massive stockpile of Agent Orange at the Futenma air station in Okinawa, Japan.
This buried stockpile has possibly poisoned the base's former head of maintenance and is potentially contaminating the ground beneath the base, as well as nearby residents.
The former mayor of the nearby town of Ginowan said local authorities had never been told of the 1981 Agent Orange find, and that he was worried about the potential level of contamination in the ground water and land, which consists of many caves and natural springs.
"If the dioxin is still in the soil, then we can confirm its presence with sampling. But the Japanese government won't grant permission to conduct such tests within U.S. installations in Okinawa," Iha said.
20 schools and 109 more elementary schools are in close proximity to the barrels' location and Futenma has been dubbed “the world’s most dangerous base” by locals.
About Agent Orange:
Agent Orange was the most widely-used of the herbicides deployed during the decade-long herbicidal warfare program in Vietnam. The name came from the orange-striped 55 US gallon (208 liter) barrels in which it was shipped, and it was the most widely used of the so-called "Rainbow Herbicides"
The U.S. used over 76 million liters of defoliants during the conflict to rob the Vietcong of cover and food. The herbicide was produced by the Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemicals.
According to a report from the non-profit War Legacies Project, the Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that up to three million Vietnamese have suffered the affects of dioxin exposure, with 150,000 children being born with birth defects.
Multiple skin diseases, cancers, and horrific birth defects are directly attributable to exposure to Agent Orange.
U.S. Veterans report presence of Agent Orange in Okinawa:
Apparently the U.S. military presence on this island has for a long time been a point of contention for locals in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, which is a cluster of islands located around 400 miles south of the Japan mainland.
And now the Japan Times, reports that following the Vietnam war, scores of barrels of the defoliating chemical, Agent Orange, were clandestinely buried at Futenma Air Base on Okinawa Island.
During the summer of 1981, “unacceptably high readings” of chemicals in the waste water flowing out of the installation prompted Lt. Col. Kris Roberts, the former head of maintenance projects on Futenma, to start digging up the ground near the end of the base’s runway.
Roberts, who is now a state representative in New Hampshire told the Japan Times, "We unearthed over 100 barrels buried in rows. They were rusty and leaking and we could see orange markings around some of their middles."
An image of the worksite, taken by Roberts in 1981, can be viewed here.
Okinawa was a forward staging post for the U.S. military during the Vietnam war. Despite denial by the Pentagon, it seems the base was a likely transit point for the herbicides.
Roberts told the newspaper that his ranking officers tried to hush up the find, by having local workers haul the barrels to an undisclosed location.
Soon after the barrels were removed, a typhoon flooded the site of the burial.
"The water had a chemical film on it from the leaking barrels. My men and me climbed down into it and eventually managed to drain the contaminated water off the base," Roberts said.
Due to his contact with the barrels' contents, Roberts, a former champion marathon runner, said he fell sick with heart problems, prostate cancer and precursors of lung cancer — diseases that his doctor states are a result of exposure to Agent Orange.
Roberts has fought to have the U.S. Marine Corps and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) contact his former crew out of fear they were similarly poisoned, but apparently his appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
One of the sick veterans said it was routine to ship goods contaminated with Agent Orange for cleaning as the Vietnam War was winding down.
Between 1962 and 2010, 132 Veterans serving on Okinawa during the Vietnam War era claim to have been exposed to Agent Orange, despite repeated denials from the Pentagon that the defoliant was ever present on the islands.
Despite this, in February the Department of Veterans’ Affairs awarded two former service members compensation for exposure to Agent Orange during their deployment on Okinawa at the time.
­"It was cheaper to bury stuff than to ship it back to the States for proper disposal. It's what the military always did on Okinawa," one former soldier told the Japanese Times on condition of anonymity.
In early April, The Japan Times and Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting Co. based in Okinawa, interviewed a former infantryman, Larry Carlson, 67.
Carlson said during the interview, "I am the tip of the iceberg. There are many others like me who were poisoned but the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) is denying their claims. I urge those men to dig in and plant their feet."
Carlson was assigned to the 44th Transportation Company at the U.S. military port in Naha between December 1965 and April 1967.
"Transport ships came in (from the United States) and we would move drums of Agent Orange. We worked 12 hours around the clock until we'd unloaded the ship," he said.
"A lot of the time, when they dropped the barrels in our truck they would leak. I got soaked at least three times and we couldn't do anything because we were driving (the barrels to storage sites) and couldn't shower until we got back to our barracks."
Carlson is one of only three American servicemen who have won benefits from the U.S. government over exposure to the toxic defoliant on Okinawa. He was the first to step forward and reveal that massive amounts of it were kept on the island.
Another veteran to go public about the existence of Agent Orange in Japan is Carlos Garay. Garay was a former marine in the Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron at Futenima in 1975.
He claims that he saw 12 barrels of Agent Orange left at the installation after the end of the Vietnam War.
Garay said, "Additionally, other squadrons were directing their leftover stocks to us for disposal, so I sent messages to the Department of Defense and Headquarters of the Marine Corps, but they never replied. The barrels were still there when I left in 1976."
Allegedly the Pentagon has repeatedly ignored requests from soldiers serving on the island during the 1970's and 1980's, to safely dispose of the toxic Agent Orange, which is a herbicide a million times more toxic than any naturally occurring poison.
Under Japanese law, the U.S. military is not responsible for cleaning up former bases returned to civilian usage, and apparently has a bad track record of polluting its installations in Okinawa.
More about Agent orange, Vietnam, Japan, Contamination, Futenma
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