[GRRN] Incinerators & Dioxins in Japan - fyi

RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Tue, 6 Jul 1999 11:58:08 -0500

Japan Facing Dioxin Pollution Woes
Japan Facing Dioxin Pollution Woes
Associated Press Writer=
TOKOROZAWA, Japan (AP) _ Eiko Kotani keeps her windows closed
and runs an air purifier all day long. She washes her vegetables
carefully, peels her tomatoes and avoids fatty meat, fish from the
nearby bay and ice cream of any flavor.
But she still fears for the health of her family.
Kotani's home in this Tokyo suburb is surrounded by dozens of
smokestacks spewing smelly, gray plumes from burned garbage _ smoke
that potentially carries dangerous dioxin.
``We've been forced to breathe in this air,'' she said. ``It's
Pollution from dioxin _ a chemical compound linked to cancer,
birth defects and other health problems _ has become Japan's latest
environmental obsession. Along with polluting the air, dioxins can
seep into the soil and water, contaminating farm, dairy and fish
Though researchers are now just beginning to grasp the scope of
the problem, some scientists believe dioxin pollution in Japan may
be the worst in the world.
Dioxin pollution is closely linked to the burning of trash.
Dioxin is often released when plastics and other wastes that
contain chlorine-based chemicals are burned.
This poses a special problem for Japan, which is a country of
Garbage here is burned at 3,840 government-approved incineration
facilities, compared with fewer than 200 in the United States. Part
of the reason for all the incinerators is the lack of space for
landfills in the crowded island nation. Another, environmental
groups say, is the failure of the government to see dioxin
contamination as a problem.
Awareness got a major boost in 1997, however, when the city of
Kyoto was host to a global conference on environmental issues.
Japan and 37 other countries promised to cut their combined
greenhouse gas emissions _ mainly carbon dioxide _ to 5.2 percent
below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.
Pressure on the government to act has since increased, with
heavy coverage of dioxin-related stories in Japanese news media.
Two recent cases have caused particular concern:
_In February, near panic resulted after a television network
reported that high levels of dioxin had been found in ``leafy
greens'' from a suburb northwest of Tokyo. Spinach prices
nose-dived, and angry farmers demanded an apology. The network
later said the contamination was of tea leaves.
_In March, two former employees at an incinerator in Osaka
applied for workers' compensation after dioxin levels 40 times
higher than normal were found in their blood fat.
Officials have generally tried to calm the public with
reassurances that the contamination is not a dire threat.
At the same time, however, the government is beginning to take
more serious action to curtail it.
In late March, the Cabinet announced it would tighten controls
on trash burning and over the next four years reduce total dioxin
emissions by about 90 percent.
In announcing the package, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi promised
the ``utmost effort to tackle dioxin contamination and meet the
public's expectations.''
The government has earmarked $690 million for monitoring and
other projects for the fiscal year that began April 1 and will
start conducting soil, water and air sampling as early as this
Currently, the Health and Welfare Ministry sets the tolerable
daily dioxin intake at 10 picograms per kilogram of body weight, or
about 4.5 picograms per pound. A picogram is one-trillionth of a
But the governing Liberal Democratic Party has proposed
legislation to set the limit at 4 picograms per kilogram, at the
upper end of the World Health Organization's recent proposed level
of 1 to 4 picograms.
The government is already claiming some gains in dealing with
dioxin pollution.
A tightening of standards last year prompted the closing of
2,046 incinerators. It is unclear how many of the remaining 3,840
will be forced to improve or close when the standards are further
tightened in 2002, since nearly 700 have yet to comply with a
government request for emissions data.
Some experts criticize the government's actions as too easy on
``Japan's anti-pollution measures have always been designed to
protect the industry instead of the public health,'' said Kazuki
Kumamoto, environmental policy professor at Meiji Gakuin University
in Tokyo.
Kumamoto said manufacturers must be made to stop producing
materials and waste that cause pollution to begin with.
``The problems only get worse,'' he said. ``And our offspring
will be forced to pay the price.''
Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011