It was approximately 10AM today when the 18th Wing Commander released a statement addressing the recent concerns surrounding barrels unearthed a short distance from two of Kadena Air Base’s schools. (Read more detailed information about the barrels HERE.) Unfortunately if given more than a passing glance the release actually raises more questions than it answers.
Men and Women of the Kadena Air Base Community,
I am aware of the concerns expressed over the discovery of unexplained barrels under Okinawa City’s soccer field between the Okinawa Expressway and Prefectural Highway 23. Our kids are our #1 priority, and we are doing everything possible to stay abreast of new information and address our community members’ concerns. I want to assure you that I am fully focused on this issue and all evidence points to these barrels posing no threat to the people on Kadena Air Base, and specifically to the students and employees at our schools. We understand your concerns, and as such plan to host a town hall at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 28) at Ryukyu Middle School on Kadena Air Base to share further information and address your questions.
First and foremost I think that it is important to note for the purpose of continuity that the barrels which were unearthed are not what I would describe as “unexplained”. In a variety of articles (including later in this statement) it is documented that barrels were labeled Dow Chemicals which, by the nature of the company, would make one assume that there is likelihood of the barrels containing chemicals at one time or another. Dow Chemicals also released a statement which said they could have been used for hospital waste or trash. Furthermore, tests (again as is mentioned in this very statement below) indicate that dioxins, petroleum based oils and heat resistant oils were in the barrels. What was “unexplained” is why it took an outside source, months after the story broke in the local and national news, and a parent’s post on Facebook for the base to even acknowledge that the barrels were unearthed in the first place.
The discovery of barrels under the Okinawa City soccer field is being thoroughly investigated by the host nation, and they have full control of the site. They plan to publish a full report later this year, and we will ensure the results are publicized within our community. To this point their testing has found evidence of petroleum oils, heat-resistant oils and dioxins on some of the barrels themselves; however, the soil across the soccer field around the barrels has been tested and does not exceed Japanese environmental quality standards.
There is no evidence the materials on the barrels have migrated at all. Moreover, the entire space between the soccer fields and the base is designed to draw substances away from the schools. Based on the site set-up alone, it is highly improbable that any material from the Okinawa City soccer field could have reached the schools on Kadena Air Base.
I can’t help but wonder: Why the space between the soccer fields (where the barrels were, and some still are, located) and the base would be “designed to draw substances away from the schools” if there was no prior knowledge of the barrels being buried there? Of course it is naive to believe that the base had absolutely no prior knowledge of these barrels as someone buried them there, likely when the area was part of Kadena Air Base prior to 87. However, if there were no harmful substances, why “design” an area to ensure they are “drawn. . . away”?
There has been significant speculation as to what might have been contained within the barrels originally, and at this point we do not definitively know. There have been three studies thus far conducted by local officials, and those results did not lead to a specific answer. To get the full information, we will need to wait for the results of the host-nation study.
Except there were relatively specific answers at very least from one of the studies conducted. In fact just a month after the barrels were unearthed the Okinawa Prefecture Environment Science Center detected dioxin in all 22 barrels including 2,4,5-Trichlorophenol which is one of the two major components used in Agent Orange.
Although we believe the area to be completely safe, we have collected and analyzed survey samples of soil and air around the schools on Kadena Air Base. All samples have come back well within environmental safety standards, but we plan to conduct an additional round of more stringent compliance sampling in the area in order to provide additional reassurance to parents and community members.
Finally, there have been some concerns expressed about the drinking water in the schools. Let me stress that all of Kadena Air Base’s drinking water is drawn from commercial sources unrelated to the site where the barrels were discovered. Additionally, the base ensures high quality drinking water by running a strict compliance water-sampling program and ensures that all drinking water meets or exceeds EPA standards. Any discrepancies found are published annually on the Internet in the Kadena Air Base Consumer Confidence Report, which can be downloaded at http://www.kadena.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130610-056.pdf.
In conclusion, I want to assure you that our kids are our #1 priority, and we are doing everything possible to stay abreast of any new information and address potential concerns. I look forward to seeing you in person at the town hall on Tuesday.
-Brig Gen James Hecker
18th Wing Commander
Unfortunately the town hall meeting which is happening Tuesday is scheduled during a week long base wide exercise (during which time military members will work 12 hour shirts participating in a mock war time scenario).
Although some are content with the answer others remain skeptical noting that the information does not coincide with information which has been released through the past 7 months.