A ghost named dioxin is lingering around in Japan. In Nose Township in Osaka, a municipal incineration facility was shut down when it turned out the soil around the facility is heavily contaminated by dioxin. In Teshima island, high density of dioxin as well as PCB and heavy metals were examined and the residents are negotiating with the local government how the cite should be cleaned up.
Japans waste treatment policy heavily depends upon incineration in order to reduce the bulk of waste. More than 70% of the municipal waste is burnt, about 4 times as high as that in USA. As a result, estimated generation of dioxin in Japan is from 4 to 8,4 kg per year, even though this number itself is said be too small in consideration of industrial sources excluded from the calculation of this number. When 1g of dioxin can kill 10,000 people, this incineration policy is suicidal and would lead to an environmental disaster.
The Ministry of Welfare finally introduced a new guideline for incineration facilities in 1997, which includes new technical standards for incinerators to limit the emission of dioxin.
Waste dumping sites are other focus of environmental disputes. These dumping facilities are often located in the same areas of drinking water sources. This is because these waste dumps are fictitiously regarded to be safe under the law, as only categorically safe and stable waste should be disposed of there.
Thesestable waste include plastics, metal rubble, construction waste, glass rubble, and rubber rubble. However, first of all, it is virtually impossible for transporters to separate these so called stable waste from other various kinds of hazardous or unstable waste. In reality, many kinds of dangerous waste are intentionally or unintentionally mixed and dumped in these facilities. In addition, there is no guarantee that thestable waste themselves are truly safe. Especially, as we learn more about the risk of environmental hormones, these dumping cites are now considered to be possible sources of environmental disasters in the near future.
Eventually, peoples movement against waste facilities has become more and more active lately. According to the National Waste Problem Network, an environmental citizen’s organization in Tokyo, there are more than 200 disputes related to construction or operation of waste treatment facilities in Japan.
Nose Town locates in the suburbs of Osaka and has 15,000 population. The town constructed a municipal waste incineration center 10 years ago and have been burning various kinds of waste collected from the household and business without fully separating them.
In 1997, the Ministry of Welfare ordered each facility to submit data of dioxin in the emission when it introduced a new guideline on the limit of dioxin. The operator of the facility cleaned the incinerators beforehand and separated chlorine-contained waste from others and burned the waste in a much better condition than its normal operation. Still they detected higher density of dioxin than the new standard. So they decided not to submit the true data to the Ministry.
This false report triggered the anger of the local residents and lead to a new examination including an investigation of soil around the facility. It turned out a part of the soil contained more than 8,500 pg of dioxin. To make the matters worse, from the circulation water to cool the incinerator, 53,000 ng of dioxin was detected. About 800 local residents filed a mediation requesting the medical check, further scientific investigations of the soil and water around the facility, and compensation for mental and economical damages caused by the contamination by the facility.
In addition, two workers who worked inside the facility are claiming that they are now suffering from a cancer and a skin disease caused by the exposure to dioxin generated by the incinerators they operated. The causation may be very difficult to establish, but this fight is one of the most important cases in Japan to prevent further contamination by municipal waste.
Teshima was listed as one of the most contaminated places in Asia by the Greenpeace. When a local small business began dumping shredder dusts in his parcel of land, the local residents opposed to the operation.
However, the prefectural government backed up the owner, saying because hebought the shredder dusts from other businesses, they were not regarded aswaste and no regulation for buyingresources. Of course, the owner had been paid significant amount of money for transporting theresources from the manufactures.
Years passed and the waste accumulated. When local residents filed a mediation with National Public Pollution Mediation Committee, the committee found dioxin, PCB, lead, Benzene and other heavy metals in the soil of the cite. The cost for the treatment and removal for the dangerous waste is estimated to be more than 100 million dollars.
As we do not havesuper-fund law, and the owner of the facility is insolvent, the local residents pressed the local government and the generators of waste in the mediation proceeding, and they reached an interim agreement where generators pay certain amount of money as polluters, and the local government will burden other cost with subsidies from the national government. However, the residents were forced to conciliate that the waste treatment facility will be constructed inside the island.
The Kofe District Court rendered a temporary order to suspend the construction of an incineration facility for industrial waste in a small town near Kofu, a city 2 hours west from Tokyo. A local company planned to construct a new incineration facility in order to burn industrial waste collected from manufacturers. However, the cite of the incinerator is only 1 km from a community with 3,000 population.
The local residents angrily opposed to the plan and filed an injunction to stop the construction. The issue was whether the new incinerator is safe enough not to cause any adverse effect on the health of local citizens.
The court said that when the plaintiff succeeded to articulate the risk of dioxin, emission of dioxin from the incinerator, and the possible exposure by local citizens according to the companys plan, it is the defendant who must establish that their facility has fulfilled all legal requirements and would not produce any harm on the residents. In this case, the court judged that the defendant did not satisfy this burden of proof.
Sendai District Court followed this precedence and rendered a similar decision in July. The court said the incinerator in question is not equipped of enough preventive measures for dioxin from the viewpoint of its structure, capacity and normal operation. Considering the high toxity of dioxin, Court decided that the residents living near the facility have the right to stop the operation of the facility.
In 1995, the Kumamoto District Court ordered a waste dumping company to stop constructing a waste dumping facility unless their facility will be equipped of a special layer to prevent leakage of water from it. Such equipment is not required by law as far as they dump so-called stable waste.
The Court determined that even though the company claimed they were going to dispose of only so called stable waste, there was a possibility that other substances would be mixed or some toxic would be leaked from the stable waste as well.
The Court also said that we have a right to preserve water which does not harm our health or existence and based on normal humans common sense, is qualified as drinking or daily use water.
The Japanese policy on waste management is gradually changing. However, its main direction is still incineration at a larger scale by more advanced technologies. We need to focus more on source reduction, reuse and recycle. At the same time, we must exchange more information with other Asian countries where dumping and burning are simply going on without proper treatment. We should stop exploiting precious resources from our children while leaving waste and contamination for our future generation.