Kawara inspects Atsugi base for dioxin before Cohen lands

Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara carried out an early Wednesday morning inspection at the U.S. Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture to check on dioxin pollution blamed on a nearby incinerator, in a hastily arranged visit before U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen’s arrival in Japan later in the day.

Kawara visited the air base, which is situated between the cities of Yamato, Ayase and Ebina, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. to view its proximity to an industrial waste incinerator run by the private company Enviro-Tech.

“The housing facilities and the garbage incinerator are located so close to each other that the situation cannot be ignored. I think the issue should be tackled by the entire government,” Kawara told reporters after the inspection.

High-rises used to house U.S. military personnel and their families are located near the incinerator’s chimney.

Cohen has reportedly expressed his intention to visit the waste disposal facility before his meeting with Kawara, slated for today.

A senior Defense Agency official said earlier that Kawara decided to visit the site prior to the meeting to “show the Japanese government’s attitude in dealing with this problem.”

In November, the United States asked Japan to suspend operations at the facility, and Cohen said in January that Washington is considering taking legal action if Japan continues to leave the matter unattended.

In a joint survey conducted by the Japanese government and the U.S. military over 56 days beginning in July, air samples taken from the base showed dioxin levels were much higher than normal. The base is 350 meters from the incinerator.

The U.S. military has complained that smoke emitted from the incinerator threatens the health of U.S. Navy personnel and their families.

The base is used jointly by the U.S. Navy and the Maritime Self-Defense Force.