April 16, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo
On April 16, Satoru Nakasone, chairman of the Special Committee on Affairs of U.S. Military Bases, presented a letter of protest at the prefectural assembly. The letter was written in response to the accident in which a firefighting foam containing the harmful substance PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) had leaked and spread from U.S. military Futenma airfield. The special committee had unanimously approved the letter the same day. The document says the accident is “most regrettable and unacceptable,” and asks for clarification of the cause and prevention of a recurrence.
Normally, once a committee reaches multi-partisan consensus, the motion is put to a vote during the prefectural general assembly meeting; but due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the committee decided to forgo the assembly vote and adopted the letter as a committee statement. Yonekichi Shinzato, chair of the prefectural assembly, was present at the meeting and explained, “The multi-partisan committee unanimously supported the letter, which means the general assembly would have voted for it as well. It essentially represents the consensus of the entire assembly.”
During the presentation of the letter, Nakasone pointed out that a similar incident occurred last December, in which a firefighting agent containing PFOS leaked off base from Futenma airfield. “The spill has happened yet again, which has exacerbated feelings of resentment and distrust among Okinawan citizens. Furthermore, the U.S. military only arrived at the site the day after the spill. The slow response and apparent lack of urgency add to the frustration,” he said.
The letter makes the following requests: (1) Investigate the leak and publicize the cause; clarify the responsibilities between the U.S. military and the Japanese government; and take steps to prevent another leak. (2) Identify and clean up the contaminated area; test the residents living in the area and Ginowan City firefighters who were exposed. (3) Amend the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and apply domestic laws that will allow swift on-site investigations. (4) Request for the shutdown, closure, and removal of Futenma airfield.
The letter is addressed to the heads of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Okinawa Office, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Consul General in Okinawa. The special committee will visit each organization next week to hand-deliver the letter.
(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)