The U.S. military is accused of contaminating drinking water supplies on the Japanese island of Okinawa, and activists are using it as a ground to protest the military’s presence on the island.
The military site Camp Gonsalves is a training ground covering about 30 square miles on Okinawa, according to The Nation. It is situated in a forest region that is “home to some 140 villagers, thousands of native species and dams that provide much of the island’s drinking water,” the report said. Activists are protesting “the construction of a new set of U.S. military helipads in the forest of the Northern Training Area, which they consider to be sacred.”
Here’s the backdrop behind the construction of the new helipads, which are helicopter landing pads, per The Nation:
Since 2007, Okinawans have been gathering in Takae to disrupt the construction of six helipads for the U.S. Marine Corps, which come as part of a 1996 bilateral deal between Japan and the United States. Under the agreement, the US military would “return” 15 square miles of its training ground in exchange for the new helipads — a plan Okinawans say will only bolster the US military presence on the islands and lead to further environmental destruction.
Eiko Chinen, a native woman, described her concerns like this: The U.S. military is “here to cut down more of our trees and poison our water.” She says local reservoirs are at risk.
The U.S. military has a history of leaving behind water pollution in Okinawa. “Okinawa’s land, water, and people have been poisoned by the military’s dumping of highly toxic chemicals like arsenic and depleted uranium,” The Nation reported.
An investigation by The Japan Times this year found contamination of local water supplies by the U.S. military in Japan:
Documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act reveal how years of accidents and neglect have been polluting local land and water with hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos and dioxin. Military authorities have often hidden this contamination, putting at risk the health of their own service members and the 184,000 civilians living in neighboring communities.
Just this month, a U.S. military aircraft crash-landed in the water off Okinawa, the Associated Press reported. It came “one week after a Marine Corps pilot died after his F/A-18 fighter jet crashed off western Japan. The crash just off Nago City triggered protests on Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment is already strong. Many Okinawans were opposed to deploying the Osprey on the island due to safety concerns following a string of crashes outside Japan, including one in Hawaii last year,” the report said.
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Image credit: "Okinawa sunset," nelo hotsuma © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/