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Vietnam era Agent Orange allegedly used in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2007-07-12

Questions and concerns are being voiced about whether the deadly chemical dioxin was used on Okinawa more than 35 years ago, and the answers are muddled, at best.

The US Department of Defense is denying Agent Orange, a popular-but-deadly chemical defoliant, was ever used in Okinawa, but another American government agency has granted a serviceman disability compensation based upon his testimony he sprayed it here in 1960-61. The U.S. Board of Veterans’ Appeals ruling was made in 1998, but only recently made public. The board awarded a service-connected disability compensation for prostrate cancer it said was “the result of Agent Orange exposure.”

The Appeals Board concluded the serviceman’s testimony that he sprayed Agent Orange in northern Okinawa, “particularly near base camp perimeters.” The GI said the herbicides, which he thought included Agent Orange, were sprayed along the sides of roads in areas where foliage had to be removed to allow military training exercises. In his testimony, the man said “the thing that bothers me most is that we were not told or warned about the hazards of herbicides we were handling, and that we were not issued protective clothing.”

Agent Orange, which contains highly toxic dioxin, was used in Vietnam to clear jungle areas. Aircraft sprayed the chemical, which has been accused of causing cancer, birth defects and other health concerns. The chemical dioxin, says Okinawa University President Kunitoshi Sakurai, “does not dissolve in nature” and could still pose a health threat.

The military’s jungle warfare training area located in the northern part of Okinawa is thought to have been sprayed with the deadly chemical. Okinawa was under U.S. control at the time, but the training area is part of a land return package to Japan. Roughly half of the 7,800 hectare jungle warfare training area is to be returned to Japan soon. The area sits between Kunigami and Higashi Villages, and local residents are nervous.

Fukuchi Dam sits in the area, and some wonder if the dioxin could have infiltrated that Okinawa water supply. “It’s the first time I’ve heard this in my life,” says Yoshiyasu Hosaka, a military disaster prevention supervisor. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Nobody knows.”

Prefecture Sector Division Director Jinkou Hanshiro says Okinawans have been drinking water from the dam for 40 years, and “we have always done investigations on water quality and there is nothing wrong. Nothing, especially about anyone getting sick.” Prefecture Governor Hirokazu Kanaima says he knows nothing about the issue, but promised to “study about this new issue.”

Higashi Village Mayor Morihisa Ijuu says “if it is true the military sprayed defoliants, it would make me afraid. I’m worried about my village peoples’ health.” Sakiyama Tsuguyuki of the Okianwa Peaceful Center says “we need to check carefully,” but says nobody knows if there’s an effect.

General Richard Myers, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2004, was asked by an American congressman if the herbicide had been used in Okinawa. “Records contain no information linking use or storage of Agent Orange or other herbicides in Okinawa,” Myers responded. He also told the Congress “no spills, accidental or otherwise, of Agent Orange occurred. Therefore, there are no recorded occupational exposures or service members in Okinawa to Agent Orange or similar herbicides.”

The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, while acknowledging the military hadn’t documented Agent Orange use here, experts who tried to verify the chemical’s use “do not negate that possibility.” It is being reported that many other American military personnel stationed in Okinawa during the Vietnam War have filed medical claims of their own with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Board of Veterans’ Appeals records say many of those claims allege exposure to Agent Orange.

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