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U.S. Military Firefighting Foam Blamed For PFAS Contamination In Japan

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A new book claims the U.S. military and use of firefighting foam during training exercises may be responsible for serious environmental damage and water contamination in Japan, where the U.S. has had military bases since the end of World War II.

The book, “Poisoning the Pacific: The U.S. Military’s Dumping of Plutonium, Chemical Weapons and Agent Orange” was written by British investigative journalist Jon Mitchell, who is based in Tokyo.

According to findings after reviewing thousands of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. military contributed to widespread contamination of water and soil around its Japanese bases due to its use of film-forming foams used to fight certain types of fires, which contain toxic chemicals.

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) has been used for decades at military bases and by some civilian fire fighting organizations throughout the United States to fight petroleum-based fires which cannot be controlled or subdued by water alone. Versions of the fire foam have been made with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, which are known to increase the risk of cancer among humans and persist in the environment or human body for years.

In the United States, a number of communities around military bases, airports and other firefighter training locations have been with high levels of PFAS in local water sources, which are often difficult to remove and may cause widespread health concerns.

According to Mitchell’s book, those same problems are occurring in Japan, where the U.S. maintains 78 military facilities. However, according to a November 7 report by The Intercept, agreements with the Japanese government do not require the U.S. to test for contamination in Japan or remove the chemicals when found.

Mitchell says the U.S. military is responsible for “countless” releases of AFFFs in Japan, via leaks, accidents and crashes. He also indicates the U.S. has never released contamination information to the Japanese public, and claims the U.S. Marine Corps has written guidelines which order their commanders not to tell Japanese officials about “politically sensitive incidents.”

According to his findings, one of the largest areas of contamination is around Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, the larges U.S. Air Force installation in Japan. He indicates the local water supply, which serves 450,000 people, has massive PFAS contamination. Runoff from the river running through the base, Dakujaku River, has the highest level of PFAS contamination ever recorded in Japan.

The Japanese government is now paying to filter PFAS out of Okinawa’s drinking water, which Mitchell says was put there by the U.S. military.

The book comes amid a growing number of firefighting foam lawsuits being filed throughout the United States, including claims presented by local governments and water districts, as well as claims brought by former firefighters diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other injuries after direct exposure to the chemicals.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, all cases filed throughout the federal court system are currently centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, where small groups of water contamination cases and cancer claims are being prepared for early trial dates.


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