Documents released in September 2015 by the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Agent Orange dioxin was discovered at the U.S. Army’s Machinato Service Area (MSA), Urasoe City, Okinawa, in the 1970s.1 The 82 pages of reports produced by the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps focus on a 46,000 square-metre outdoor storage area within the base which was used to store “retrograde shipments from Viet-Nam” (1) - including herbicides - during the 1960s and 1970s. Following tests of the soil and water in the mid-1970s, USMC documents cite the discovery of a “high concentration” of dioxin in the area (77); a United States Forces Japan report specifies the detection of “dioxin (agent orange component)” in 1975 (2). The findings contradict Pentagon assertions as recently as 2015 that Agent Orange was never stored on Okinawa.2
Hundreds of U.S. veterans who served on Okinawa during the Vietnam War believe they were sickened by exposure to military defoliants on the island; many of them claim that there was a large stockpile of Agent Orange at MSA.3 Due to Pentagon denials that these chemicals were present on Okinawa, the Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to award compensation to the vast majority of these former service members.
The revelation that the Agent Orange dioxin was discovered at MSA - which is known today as Camp Kinser - comes at the end of an 18-month struggle under the Freedom of Information Act during which the Pentagon initially refused to release the records for reasons which included the need “to protect against public confusion.”4 On September 23rd, United States Pacific Command finally released the package, titled “Talking Paper on Possible Toxic Contamination at Camp Kinser,” dated 30 July 1993. The FOIA release is believed to be the first time such comprehensive records regarding U.S. military contamination in Japan have been made public. In addition to dioxin contamination, the reports also reveal deaths of sea life, burials of toxic chemicals and the possible exposure of base workers at MSA. Furthermore, they highlight the frustrations of the U.S. military struggling to tackle contamination in the face of previous failed clean-ups and bureaucratic obstacles.