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Colored smoke blamed for paint stains on cars

Tokyo >> Angry car owners have descended upon the Air Self-Defense Force after dye, thought to be from the colored smoke used by the Blue Impulse aerobatic team on the opening day of the Tokyo Paralympics rained down on vehicles near an ASDF base in Saitama prefecture.

As many as 300 vehicles are believed to have been affected. Although the colorful pigments are said to pose no health or environmental risk, they cannot easily be washed off, and the ASDF could be responsible for repainting and other repair bills.

Since the Paralympics’ opening day on Aug. 24, the Defense Ministry’s Air Staff Office in Tokyo has been fielding calls from residents of the area around Iruma Air Base in Sayama in Saitama, who complain that their cars have been stained by the dye.

There were 12 complaints from Aug. 25 to 30, and dozens more have followed. Investigators have been sent to take photographs for each claim and examine whether the pigments matched the dye used by the aerobatic team.

According to the ASDF, the Blue Impulse’s first unit of six T-4 training jets made a flyby of the National Stadium in Shinjuku ward, Tokyo, ahead of the Paralympic opening ceremony. The team drew streaks in the air with red, blue and green smoke — the colors of the Three Agitos Paralympic symbol — as part of events to celebrate the Games’ opening. During the aerobatic performance, three planes of the team’s second unit were also aloft in airspace far to the west of central Tokyo as reserve jets.

​The problem occurred when, prior to landing at the Iruma base, the reserve jets sprayed colored smoke at altitudes below the approximately 1,000-foot minimum stipulated by the Defense Ministry. One of the jets sprayed the smoke at an altitude of about 100 feet.

Speculation is that the dyes did not fully dissipate in the air and adhered to cars near the base. Some of the affected vehicles reportedly had dozens of stains.

The colored smoke was purchased with funds allocated for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Plans called for the jets to eject their smoke before landing for the enjoyment of local residents.

A reserve jet pilot said, “We wanted to use all the smoke. We wanted to make people living near the base, who always show their understanding, happy.”

In 1998 similar incidents occurred in Hokkaido and Yamaguchi prefectures, resulting in payouts to cover repainting costs.

The ASDF stopped using colored smoke in 1999 following the incidents but decided to reintroduce it to mark the Tokyo Games because of the aerobatic team’s association with the event. Blue Impulse jets drew the Olympic rings over Tokyo for the 1964 Tokyo Games and also participated in celebrating the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. “We wanted to use colored smoke at this Games, too,” a senior ASDF official said.

The ASDF spent $2.1 million to develop a new type of dye that, if sprayed at an altitude of 1,000 feet, was shown to break up to a thousandth of an inch, too small to have an appreciable effect on the ground below.

But the dye cannot be removed with detergent, and most of the affected vehicles — which include brand-new cars and an Italian-made luxury car — will need to be repainted.

“We don’t know how much it will cost total,” said the ASDF official. “We regret the inconvenience caused to our neighbors.”

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