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EDITORIAL | Double Standard: Okinawa Gov Kept Own Cancer-causing Leak Secret

Tamaki left his Okinawa constituents exposed to toxic spills from his prefectural offices while he was at the UN, ranting about the US bases' chemical waste.



Governor Denny Tamaki is surrounded by reporters as he enters the Okinawa prefectural office on the morning of September 27, 2023.

Recently the leak of a fire extinguishing agent containing the toxic compound PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) from the underground parking lot of the Okinawa Prefectural Offices was revealed. This chemical is a known carcinogen and can adversely affect the human body. Nevertheless, the prefectural government did not inform the public of the leak for nearly three months.

The prefecture must investigate the cause of the leak and prevent its recurrence. However, the problem does not stop there. 


Okinawa's Awareness of PFOS

Okinawa Prefecture has repeatedly and vehemently protested against the leakage of PFOS from United States military facilities. For example, there was a spill at a US military facility in Uruma City in 2021. In that case, the prefectural government criticized the way the spill was reported. They said it was "inadequate from a crisis management perspective," even though notice was given only a day late.

An objective observer can only sigh and wonder how the virulent criticism we have seen up till now can be justified. Toxic spills, whether originating from the prefectural government offices or a US military facility, simply cannot be allowed.

Yet, there is a stark difference in the prefecture's reaction when the toxic spill is its own versus when the US military is responsible. Prefectural authorities must be as strict on themselves as they are on others. And they should carefully reflect on that truth. 

Okinawa Prefectural Government Headquarters, Naha, Okinawa prefecture, Japan (Via Wikimedia Commons)

What Happened at the Prefectural Office

According to Okinawa Prefecture, on June 18, a malfunctioning sprinkler system spewed an estimated 900 liters of fire extinguishing agent into the underground parking lot of the prefectural government building. Some of the contaminants then flowed into a spring water storage tank. 

Nonetheless, the prefecture did not immediately take steps to remove the contaminated water. Nearly three months later, on September 12, an inspection revealed that it had leaked outside as well. 

Water samples collected on September 19 revealed 24,000 nanograms per liter of PFOS and other toxic substances in water from the spring water tank. In addition, 6,600 nanograms of PFOS per liter of water were retrieved from the site's drainage ditches.

Furthermore, 34 nanograms were detected in the nearby Kumoji River within Naha City. The national safety benchmark is 50 nanograms. If water from the river had been tested earlier, the value most likely would have been even higher. 

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki responds to the media in regarding his opposition to the relocation of US military base on September 19 in Geneva, Switzerland (© Kyodo)

Tamaki's Unbalanced Attacks on US Military

Not only did the prefecture fail to immediately disclose the spill, but in the interim it repeatedly criticized the PFOS problem at US military facilities.

Governor Denny Tamaki was informed by the department head in charge on September 15. Tamaki claims that he thereupon ordered his subordinates to take appropriate measures. However, he did not disclose the incident. Instead, he then flew to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council starting on September 17. Once there, Tamaki went around complaining that US military facilities were polluting the environment.


In other words, the prefecture itself prioritized criticizing the US military overseas rather than alerting residents of the prefecture about its own spilled toxic substances.

We urge Governor Tamaki to properly fulfill his responsibility to protect the environment and safeguard the health of the people of his prefecture.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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