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Yokota Air Base had 134 fuel, other spill incidents, but only 3 reported to Japan by US

This photo disclosed to the Mainichi Shimbun shows a fuel spill at the U.S. forces' Yokota Air Base in the suburbs of Tokyo in November 2015. According to internal documents of the forces dated on the day of the accident, 30 to 50 gallons of unidentified mixture including oil seeped from a pile of iron scraps near a tarmac and maintenance area. The spilled substances flowed into drains, but there were no signs of them leaking off the base, according to the documents. Another internal document dated eight days after the accident identifies the spilled material as some 30 gallons of operating fluid.

TOKYO -- At least 134 accidents, including jet fuel spills, occurred at Yokota Air Base here between 2010 and 2017, but only three of them were reported to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to in-house documents of the U.S. forces obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun.

The finding highlights the veiled nature of the military facility straddling the capital's suburban city of Fussa and other municipalities, where the United States Forces Japan is located, despite efforts by the Japanese and U.S. governments to work out criteria for information-sharing over accidents impacting the environment.

The U.S. forces insist that most of the spilled material was cleaned up immediately and the accidents posed no threat to humans.

The Mainichi Shimbun examined the Yokota base's documents it obtained through the United States' freedom of information system and found that there were 134 accidents at the facility whose details could be confirmed in the papers. Those incidents included a spill of 734 gallons (some 2,770 liters) of diesel fuel from a tank in February 2012; and a mid-flight leakage of 20 kilopounds (about 9,000 kilograms) of jet fuel from a C-130 transport aircraft in September 2016.

Of the 134 incidents, 42 cases each involved a spill of 10 gallons or more of fuel, with some of the substances possibly ending up in soil or drainage systems. Cases in which the quantity of spilled products remains unclear are not included in the 42 cases.

Meanwhile, bodies including the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that they had received reports on only three of those accidents -- a spill of some 10 gallons of jet fuel from a hose during refueling to a KC-10 air tanker in July 2010; a leak of roughly 100 gallons of fuel from a C-130 transport aircraft in March 2017; and a spill of about 50 gallons of hydraulic fluid from a C-5 transport aircraft in July that year.

After being notified of the March 2017 incident, a liaison council comprising the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as well as the five cities and a town hosting the Yokota base had demanded that the U.S. forces immediately alert Japanese authorities should similar accidents take place again.

However, it has emerged from the documents disclosed to the Mainichi that a similar accident had also occurred in August 2017, in which some 100 gallons of fuel spilled from a C-130 transport aircraft. This suggests that, despite the request filed by the liaison council, the U.S. forces failed to report the latter accident that came just five months after the March 2017 case.

Under the Japan Environmental Governing Standards (JEGS) set by the U.S. forces in Japan regarding the management of hazardous substances, a spill in excess of 110 gallons of petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) is defined as a significant spill. The standards state that when a significant spill occurs inside an installation and cannot be contained, or the spill poses a threat to residents outside the installation, the U.S. forces would immediately alert Japanese authorities. However, critics say the reporting criteria are lax and ambiguous.

When contacted by the Mainichi, the 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office at the base commented, "We place great importance on the relationship with the local municipal government and on maintaining that relationship," and that, "POL spills are only reported to GoJ (the government of Japan) when they meet the previously agreed reporting criteria under bilateral agreements. ... The vast majority of both reportable and non-reportable spills are quickly and easily cleaned up, do not result in permanent damage or hazards to humans, and do not go beyond the confines of the base."

The metropolitan government's U.S. Military Facilities Relations Division said, "From the standpoint of protecting Tokyo residents' living environment, we would like to continue to request the central government and the U.S. forces to provide information to local bodies in an appropriate manner."

The Status of U.S. Forces Agreement Division of the Foreign Ministry said, "We cannot necessarily tell what sort of cases would be subject to reporting, but first we will confirm the facts with the U.S. and respond properly."

(Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, City News Department)

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