For decades, US military operations have been contaminating the Pacific region with toxic substances, including plutonium, dioxin, and VX nerve agent. Hundreds of thousands of service members, their families, and residents have been exposed—but the United States has hidden the damage and refused to help victims.
After World War II, the United States granted immunity to Japanese military scientists in exchange for their data on biological weapons tests conducted in China; in the following years, nuclear detonations in the Pacific obliterated entire islands and exposed Americans, Marshallese, Chamorros, and Japanese fishing crews to radioactive fallout. At the same time, the United States experimented with biological weapons on Okinawa and stockpiled the island with nuclear and chemical munitions, causing numerous accidents. Meanwhile, the CIA orchestrated a campaign to introduce nuclear power to Japan—the folly of which became horrifyingly clear in the 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture.
Caught in a geopolitical grey zone, US territories have been among the worst affected by military contamination, including Guam, Saipan, and Johnston Island, the final disposal site of apocalyptic volumes of chemical weapons and Agent Orange.
Accompanying this damage, US authorities have waged a campaign of cover-ups, lies, and attacks on the media, which the author has experienced firsthand in the form of military surveillance and attempts by the State Department to impede his work. Now, for the first time, this explosive book reveals the horrific extent of contamination in the Pacific and the lengths the Pentagon will go to conceal it.
Foreword by John W. DowerIntroduction 1 Japanese Weapons of Mass Destruction and the US Cover-up 2 Nuclear Warfare in Japan and the Marshall Islands 3 Okinawa: “The Junk Heap of the Pacific”4 Military Herbicides, Vietnam, and Okinawa 5 Polluting with Impunity 6 Okinawa: Paradise Lost Timeline: Environmental Contamination and Accidents on Okinawa (1947–2019) 7 Japan: Contamination, Nuclear Deals, and the Fukushima Meltdowns 8 Toxic Territories: Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Johnston Atoll 9 Toward Environmental Justice Appendix: Contaminants NotesBibliography Acknowledgments Index About the Author
Mitchell’s advocacy for human and environmental justice pushes for sweeping change as he offers up a blueprint of hope in the last chapter and a call to action boldly addressed to the American government. . . . Mitchell catalogues in detail the present-day victims of the poisoned Pacific: indigenous residents of Okinawa and various Pacific islands, forced to help clean up chemical spills, drink contaminated water, and deal with ruined soil and rampant disease; the waters of the Pacific Ocean itself, containing thousands of liters of leaking contaminated barrels; the unprotected American military personnel and their families stationed in Japan and exposed to dangerous chemicals that cause birth defects and cancer.
In 'Poisoning the Pacific,' investigative journalist Jon Mitchell offers a deeply reported and impressively complete look at the environmental damage done by the U.S. military in the Pacific since World War II. Many readers will already be familiar with the legacy of nuclear testing in the Pacific, and Mitchell goes beyond those nuclear tests to include the long-term effects of chemical and biological weapons tests conducted on and near U.S. territories and military installations. Mitchell painstakingly reviewed thousands of pages of official documents obtained through public records requests, and interviewed survivors, service members, whistleblowers and Indigenous leaders. Together, their stories paint a picture of an indifferent superpower, willing to endanger the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people in order to gain an upper hand in geopolitics.
Mitchell also connects the environmental crimes of the past to environmental destruction in the present. Current servicemembers and their families, as well as those who live near U.S. military bases, will see themselves in chapters about contemporary water contamination that is still occurring on the mainland and on U.S. territories such as Guam. Ultimately, this book promises to frustrate official attempts to cover up or whitewash the environmental impacts of America's military history, and open the eyes of the public. (From SEJ's 2021 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award, Second Place judges' comments)
Jon Mitchell, a British investigative journalist in Japan, cuts an assured path through decades of disinformation, dissembling and spin to bring the abject evil of each military atrocity and its consequences into the full glare of the light. The result is devastating: a litany of war crimes, leaks of radiation and biochemical weapons, inept clean-ups, poisonings and cover-ups.... Mitchell distills a decade of research into an intense and compelling account, drawing on over 10,000 pages grudgingly released by the US military, CIA and State Department through the Freedom of Information Act, and countless interviews with whistleblowers, base-workers and victims.
Poisoning the Pacific by Jon Mitchell is an eye-opening addition to the annals of American military history. Chronicling a dark and unsettling history of pollution, Mitchell provides a definitive account of how the U.S. military has endangered the health and safety of millions of people across the Pacific region. A journalist based in Japan, Mitchell has spent years amassing records through the Freedom of Information Act about the contamination at military bases in Japan, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and other places in the Pacific. Poisoning the Pacific will therefore appeal to those readers interested in military and environmental history, international relations, defense policy, and the Asia-Pacific region in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The US military and the US Defense Department have the maddening habit of reflexively refusing to acknowledge almost anything that could possibly be construed as making them look bad. One of the consequences of this habit of denial is that the military’s right hand rarely knows much about what its left hand is up to. Rather than admit this ignorance, however, military leadership insists that the armed forces are entirely honourable and that they are therefore incapable of doing anything nefarious. It takes books like this to thrust these dirty deeds out into the open.
This is an exquisitely researched book. Its comprehensive analysis is based on hard evidence, much of which is contained in US records. It reveals that when accidents with pollutants occurred, there were few lessons learned and little attempt made to train military personnel to handle these chemicals with safety to themselves and the environment.... Michell’s credentials and honors attest to his expertise with a plethora of sources, including Japanese records. His endnotes are full and relevant. This is a convincing study of war damage—but more so, the real environmental and human costs of “eternal vigilance” in maintaining the US war machine. I have taught several courses on the environmental history of the Paciﬁc, and I wish this book had been available at that time. It adds much to the understanding of the way governments can work when they take their eyes off their own and other people and simply see the world though the crosshairs of the gun.
Key documents cited in Poisoning the Pacific detailing military contamination on Okinawa are available via the following links:
“Arsenic Poisoning of Beef Cattle,” United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, January 3, 1962.
Description: Report into deaths of cows following usage of herbicides in northern Okinawa.
“Technical Report 60: Rice Blast Epiphytology,” United States Army Biological Laboratories Fort Detrick, June 1965.
Description: Report on biological weapon tests at sites on Okinawa including Shuri, Ishikawa and Nago.
“Organizational History – 267th Chemical Company,” United States Army, March 26, 1966.Description: Summary of Project 112 site, personnel training and shipment of chemical weapons to Okinawa.
“Overseas Storage of Chemical Agents / Munitions,” Chief of Staff, United States Army, July 22, 1969.
Description: Memorandum about Project 112 (Red Hat), storage of chemical weapons and leak at Chibana Army Ammunition Depot.
“Environmental Pollution Incident,” United States Air Force, December 1, 1987.
Description: Investigation into discovery of PCB contamination at Kadena Air Base.
“Consultative Letter, AL-CL-1992-0110, Evaluation of Water Sampling Site 4, Kadena AB, JA,” United States Air Force, August 14, 1992.
Description: Investigation into environmental impact of firefighting foam and corrosion control effluence at Kadena Air Base.
“Consultative Letter, AL-CL-1992-0118, Evaluation of Industrial Water Treatment Plant, Bldg 3448, Kadena AB, JA,” United States Air Force, September 9, 1992.
Description: Evaluation of how corrosion control effluent is treated at Kadena Air Base.
“USFJ Talking Paper on Possible Toxic Contamination at Camp Kinser, Okinawa,” United States Forces in Japan, July 30, 1993.
Description: Multi-service investigation into contamination within Camp Kinser (a.k.a. Machinato / Makiminato Service Area), including discussion of deaths of marine life, burials of hazardous waste and economic obstacles for remediation.
“Consultative Letter (CL), AL/OE-CL-1994-0183, Sampling Recommendations to Determine the Extent of Lead Contamination in Soil Surrounding the Munitions Deactivation Furnace, Bldg 46808, Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan,” United States Air Force, January 16, 1995.Description: Assessment into lead contamination near munitions deactivation furnace at Kadena Ammunition Depot.
“Consultative Letter (CL), AL/OE-1997-0006 Sand Blasting Media as a Hazardous Waste Stream,” United States Air Force, February 20, 1997.Description: Consultative letter into disposal of heavy metal contaminated sand blasting media at Kadena Air Base.
“Site Investigation Report: Alleged PCB Site, Kadena AB, Japan,” Montgomery Watson for Department of Defense, February 1999.
Description: Investigation into contamination from outdoor storage of PCB-containing waste oils on Kadena Air Base.
“Consultative Letter, IERA-DO-BR-CL-2000-0008, Asbestos Survey of Building 703, Kadena AB, Japan,” United States Air Force, March 17, 2000.
Description: Asbestos survey of Kadena Air Base’s Building 703, a former medical center which had been used for readiness training.
“Japan: Okinawa TV Serial Report Views Alleged Use of Agent Orange on US Bases,” Central Intelligence Agency, January 12, 2012.
Description: Transcript from CIA’s Open Source Center of TV report about the usage of Agent Orange on Okinawa.
“Military Housing Inspections - Japan,” Department of Defense Inspector General, September 30, 2014.
Description: Surveys of military housing for compliance with mold, water quality, lead-based paint, asbestos, pest infestation, radon, and radiation standards.
“Department of Defense Dependent Schools Lead Assessment Project, Kadena Air Base,” United States Air Force, August 27, 2015.
Description: Survey of lead contamination in water supply for eight Department of Defense schools / facilities at Kadena Air Base.
“Certificate of Test Results, No.2015-02203-B01~04,” Okinawa Prefecture Environment Science Center for United States Marine Corps, February 18, 2016.
Description: Survey for PFOA/PFOS contamination at fire training area at MCAS Futenma.
“Japan/DET 3 KADENA AFB, JAPAN / EC18-040,” Maxxam Analytics for United States Air Force, November 10, 2017
Description: Survey for PFOA/PFOS contamination at fire training area retention basin, Kadena Air Base.
10/12/20: The Guardian interviewed author for book announcement feature; “'Poisoning the Pacific': New book details US military contamination of islands and ocean.”
11/23/20: Stars & Stripes interviewed author on book subject; “Author: Trove of US documents on toxic substances in Okinawa may help veterans’ claims.”
6/29/2021: Author Jon Mitchell was part of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan’s Book Break series on YouTube and held a special Q&A session where he discussed the chemical dumping in the Pacific and the fallout from that legacy.
10/12/2020, Dandelion Salad: The book was featured on this blog.