Dozens affected by toxic exposure from fire at hazmat storage facility at Kadena

About 45 people at Kadena Air Base were affected by exposure to smoke or chlorine gas from a fire that started at a hazardous materials facility, officials say.

The fire has been extinguished, according to a media release. Fire and emergency personnel from the 18th Wing responded to the scene just before 9 a.m. local time and quickly contained the fire to the HAZMAT facility.

“Due to smoke from the burning building and the potential release of chlorine gas, buildings and personnel in the affected area were evacuated,” according to the release. The fire was extinguished at approximately 2 p.m. local time and the evacuation order for areas surrounding the incident has been rescinded.

About 45 people on base “were affected by exposure to smoke and/or chlorine gas with the majority exhibiting mild symptoms,” according to the release. “Most of the individuals have been treated and returned to duty.”

The cause of the fire is not yet known officials say.

“Bioenvironmental personnel and emergency responders remain on the scene to monitor the situation and ensure there’s no safety risk to the community,” according to the release.

The blaze began Monday morning at the building in the central part of Kadena Air Base and was still burning a few hours later, but it was contained within the base’s perimeter, according to a U.S. Air Force statement.

Footage on Japanese television showed thick gray plumes of smoke billowing from the building, called the 18th wing Hazardous Materials Pharmacy. The area was closed off and personnel in the area have been evacuated as firefighters get the fire under control, the statement said. It said no injuries have been reported.

The cause of the fire is unknown, the statement said. Kadena is the largest U.S. air base in the Far East.

More than half of about 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa under a bilateral security pact. Many residents on Okinawa have long complained about environmental hazard, noise and crime related to the base.

Environmental impact of what happens at U.S. bases has been a major concern on Okinawa. In April, more than 140 tons of fire-fighting foams believed to contain cancer-causing substances leaked out of the Marine Air Station Futenma at the center of a relocation dispute. The Defense Ministry last month said its water sampling results showed no major problems.

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