Subject: [cwj 60] Dioxin found deadly for sure -- and they're pumping it out
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2000 20:27:16 -0700
Seq: 60

Monday, July 17, 2000
The Japan Times 

Dioxin found deadly for sure -- and they're pumping it out 


First, the good news.

At the end of June, the Environment Agency announced that
estimated dioxin emissions in Japan have dropped over 60 percent
since 1997. The agency reported that annual emissions were down
to between 2,600 grams and 2,800 grams in 1999.

The bad news? Actual total emissions may well be four times that
amount, and there is no longer any doubt that dioxins are deadly.

After almost 10 years of reviewing studies on dioxin, the U.S.
government last month released a draft report that declares dioxin
a definite "human carcinogen." In the report, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency indicates that dioxins are as
much as 10 times more toxic than previously recognized. The
report confirmed that dioxins are found across the globe, in our
food supply, and in the bodies of people throughout the world.

Dioxins are endocrine disruptors, which means they can act like
hormones in the body, interfering with sexual development and
causing infertility. They also cause cancer.

The people most at risk from dioxins are those who eat large
amounts of dairy and fatty meat products. In addition to other
risks they may be exposed to, these individuals face a cancer risk
as high as one in 100, depending on their lifestyles.

The problem is, everyone is at risk. "It is likely that part of the
general population is at, or near, exposure levels where adverse
effects can be anticipated," says the EPA report.

Furthermore, U.S. levels of dioxin are well below those found in
Japan. In a story on dioxin in May, Japan Times writer Mick
Corliss noted that Japan's air contains 10 times the amount of
dioxin found in other industrialized countries.

The U.S. is not the first to admit the dangers of dioxins. In 1998,
the World Health Organization dramatically cut their standard for a
tolerable daily intake of dioxin, from 10 picograms per day to
between 1 and 4 picograms per kilogram of body weight per day
(a picogram is a trillionth of a gram). WHO experts warn that
"subtle effects occur in the general population in developed
countries at background levels of 2 to 6 picograms per kg body
weight and day."

The EPA report notes that about 7 percent of daily cancer deaths
in the U.S., or 100 out of 1,400, could be due to dioxin. According
to the London-based Guardian newspaper, the EPA report concurs
with a report released last year by a group of German scientists
who concluded that dioxins could be responsible for 12 percent of
human cancers in industrialized countries.

Dioxins are not produced deliberately, but rather are "unwanted
byproducts of many chemical industrial processes and of all
combustion processes," according to a 1999 UNEP Chemicals
report. UNEP Chemicals is a division of the United Nations
Environment Program. The report, released last May, is titled
"Dioxin and Furan Inventories, National and Regional Emissions of

Using 1995 as a reference year, UNEP determined that total dioxin
emissions from 15 of the most developed nations were between
8,300 grams and 36,000 grams annually, with a central estimate of
10,300 grams.

Japan alone generated 5,300 grams in 1998, according to a
Ministry of International Trade and Industry emissions inventory.
The MITI report also states that municipal solid waste incinerators
generated about 80 percent (4,300 grams) of Japan's 1998 dioxin
emissions. Based on these figures, UNEP determined that Japan
produces almost 40 percent of all airborne dioxins from identified
sources worldwide.

After municipal incinerators, the main sources of dioxins in Japan
are incinerators that burn organic chloride waste and waste oil,
medical waste incinerators, and metal works. Incinerators generate
more than 90 percent of Japan's dioxins.

Any time you combine heat, chlorine and organic material, there is
a chance of making dioxins. Since Japan incinerates three quarters
of its annual municipal solid waste (about 50 million tons), and
much of that waste contains polyvinyl chloride plastics used in
packaging, it is not surprising that Japan is the leading dioxin

Still, no one knows exactly how much dioxin Japan emits
annually. The most recent Environment Agency figures are
between 2 and 3 kg, while one citizens' group, Kanto Network to
Stop Dioxin Pollution, told Corliss that emissions are closer to 15
or 20 kg per year. In either case the numbers are way too high,
and not knowing the exact problem is almost as bad as ignoring it.

Concerned about dangerous dioxin levels in Japan, last year a
Tokyo-based consumer group, Seikatsu Club, decided to find out
for itself how much dioxin is billowing around us. The group
asked members for donations of time and money, and began
collecting needles from black pine (kuromatsu) trees.

Evergreen needles absorb dioxin from the air during respiration.
Dioxin quickly builds up in the needles and within about four
months becomes stable at a level representing dioxin levels in the
air. By systematically collecting needles from trees across a
particular area on several occasions over time, then testing the
needles, it is possible to find the average density of dioxin in the
atmosphere in that area.

The survey was done in cooperation with Teiichi Aoyama,
Director of the Environmental Research Institute Inc.

Researchers found that if the dioxin density in pine needles is
higher than 5 pg-TEQ per gram, atmospheric dioxin in that area
may exceed the Environment Agency standard that sets an
environmentally safe limit for dioxin at 0.6 pg-TEQ per cu. meter.
Finding this correlation made it possible to compare dioxin found
in the needles and dioxin in ambient air.

The average dioxin level in Tokyo needles was 3.81 pg-TEQ per
gram. The highest levels in the area were found in Tachikawa
(6.82), Suginami-ku (5.80), Hoya (5.78), Kiyose (5.60), Hachioji
(5.54), the Tama area (5.48) and Nerima-ku (5.14).

The highest overall average for a region was Chiba (4.48) with a
high of 8.02. Kanagawa Prefecture averaged 3.06 pg, Hokkaido
averaged 0.62, and in Kyushu the average was 1.21, with a high of
5.43 pg in Chikuho, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Those familiar with the controversy over a private incinerator
located next to the U.S. Navy's Atsugi Airbase in Kanagawa
Prefecture will not be surprised to learn that the highest dioxin
levels anywhere were found on the base, about 400 meters from
the incinerator: 53 pg-TEQ per gram.

Seikatsu Club is committed to ongoing testing, and hopes the
government will begin to supervise waste disposal more strictly,
encourage returnables and recyclables, and promote composting
of kitchen garbage. The group would also like the business sector
to take more responsibility for waste reduction and proper

Japan estimates that annual dioxin emissions should be at about
600 grams by 2002, but even this figure is unacceptable. As a
commentator pointed out, even one dioxin death is inexcusable
when the wastes that cause these deaths can be prevented,
reduced and managed through recycling and composting.

As things stand now, however, every year hundreds of lives are
going to waste.

For more information, see the Web sites at and

E-mail Stephen Hesse at

The Japan Times: July 17, 2000

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