Drums found at U.S. base in Okinawa raise environmental concerns

A city government in Okinawa has asked the Defense Ministry to conduct environmental studies on around a dozen metal drums found at a local U.S. base, city officials said Thursday.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau is consulting on the matter with the U.S. military, the officials and other sources said, as the military's permission is required for such studies.

The Ginowan municipal government's board of education found the drums, which U.S. forces are suspected of having abandoned at the Marine Corps' Camp Foster last fall, while looking for buried cultural properties on the base with the permission of the U.S. military.

No health problems have been reported by residents living around the base, but the city has suspended its work due to concern about environmental pollution, the sources said.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau is currently looking into what is contained in the drums, they said.

In early 2002, the neighboring town of Chatan found more than 100 metal drums containing tar oil at the base's former shooting range, which had been returned.

Since June 2013, scores of metal drums with the name of Dow Chemical Co. that produced the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War have been found in a soccer field formerly owned by the U.S. military in the city of Okinawa, which Camp Foster also straddles.

The U.S. and Japanese governments held their first working-level talks in Washington last month on concluding a new accord concerning environmental conservation and research within U.S. base premises, separate from the status of forces agreement.